WINDHAM – Gone is the Gayton of old.
The unsightly errors? Gone.
The feeble hitting? Toast.
The pitching woes? History.
The payoff is a trip to the Zone III title game this afternoon.
Backed by nine solid innings from Eddie West, impeccable defense from shortstop Erik Waite and timely hitting from a host of players, Gayton slugged out out a 9-5 victory over No. 1 playoff seed Gray Post 86 on Saturday.
The win advances the Lewiston-based Legion squad to the finals against Bessey Motors of Paris, which upended Gilman Electric of Mechanic Falls, 6-5.
“One through nine, we got some quality at-bats,” Gayton coach Todd Cifelli said. “We executed our bunts … and Eddie manned up on the mound.”
For Gray, the loss was a continuation – and ultimately the end – of what has been a flat spin to end a promising season. In the first 15 games, Post 86 had a team batting average above .330. In the final five games, that average dipped to below .290, and the hits were few and far between.
“For two weeks, we’ve been playing very dangerous baseball,” Gray coach Aaron Talon said. “We’ve been relying on our pitching and defense, and it’s been bailing us out, but it didn’t today.”
Gray looked like it would turn things around just in time for Saturday’s first inning, loading the bases with one out. But West delivered, striking out Nick Derice on three pitches and then inducing a fly ball from Matt Moberg.
“I had great defensive help,” West said. “Robbie Leeman (at first base) and Erik, especially Erik. I didn’t want all their hard work to go to waste.”
Over the next three innings, no runners advanced past second base against West.
Gayton scored the game’s first run when Devan Knight scampered around from first on Mike Fontaine’s double in the top of the third inning.
“When you’re behind in the game, you can’t do a lot of the things offensively that you want to do, and that takes us out of our game a little bit,” Talon said.
Gray took a short-lived lead in the bottom of the fifth with three runs on a walk and four hits. In the top of the sixth, Gayton used two Gray errors and three hits to regain its edge, and added four more on four more hits in the seventh to take a 9-3 lead.
West pitched perfect sixth, seventh and eighth innings before Zach Cantor smacked a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to draw Gray within four at 9-5.
West got No. 4 hitter Pete Clement to fly out and then struck out Derice swinging to end the game.