LIVERMORE FALLS — Dirigo and Livermore Falls already brought a playoff-like atmosphere to Wednesday’s tilt between the two top teams in the MVC North. The playoff-like weather, while pleasant, wasn’t necessary.
Timely hitting, fielding and pitching earned the Cougars a split of the season series with a 7-4 win at Griffin Field. Cliff Turner went 2-for-3 with three RBIs and Arik Fenstermacher added some critical insurance with a two-run single in the seventh.
“I think today was our best game overall,” said Dirigo pitcher Ryan Lafleur, who gave up two earned runs in seven innings. “It was a total team effort. I have the best run support in this league, and Cliff and Arik came up huge.”
The Andies (11-4), who were the last team to score off Dirigo pitching back on May 12, ended the Cougars’ string of five-straight shutouts with two unearned runs in the second. The Cougars’ run of 34 straight innings without yielding an earned run also came to an end on Willie Brown’s two-run homer that pulled Livermore Falls 5-4 in the sixth. But Fenstermacher’s clutch hit gave Lafleur (four hits, four Ks, four walks) the cushion he needed to finish the game.
“He’s a gutsy competitor and he always wants the baseball in these kind of games,” Dirigo coach Dave Lafleur said. “Sometimes he overthrows a little bit and the ball stays high, but for the most part, he kept them off-balance. He worked that outside part of the plate. The umpire was giving that to both teams so why not try to stay there.”
Livermore Falls pitcher Derek Castonguay was superb in the Andies’ 4-1 win over the Cougars on at Harlow Park two weeks ago, but Dirigo (12-2) quickly pounced on him for three runs in the second. An error, single and hit batsmen loaded the bases with one out for Turner, who ripped a sharp grounder to third. Brown dove to his left to knock it down, but the ball rolled too far away from him to make a play and David Guildford scored to for a 1-0 lead.
Castonguay struck out Spencer Ross looking for the second out of the inning, then Tyler Gates dropped a fly ball between center and right field to plate two more runs for a 3-0 advantage.
A pair of one-out walks came back to haunt Lafleur in the bottom of the second. He appeared to get out of the jam when Shawn Whiting hit a pop fly to second, but the ball bounced out of Gates’ glove, sending Bryan Maurais home. Pinch-runner Alex Rose scored on a double steal to make it 3-2.
Castonguay (seven innings, nine hits, four Ks, no walks) retired 10 of the next 11 men he faced. Lafleur, meanwhile, escaped after a leadoff triple by Chandler White in the fourth when Maurais failed to make contact on a squeeze bunt and catcher Eric Bolduc threw White out at third. Livermore Falls coach Brian Dube argued third baseman Tyler Chiasson missed the tag, but to no avail.
The Andies stranded the potential tying run again, this time at second, with two out in the fifth. James McLamb, who had grounded out to Lafleur twice previously, had another hard shot back to the hill knocked down by the Dirigo pitcher to end the threat.
In the sixth, singles by Fenstermacher and Ben Holmes preceded a double steal by Holmes and pinch-runner Travis Frost to put runners at second and third with two out. Turner, the Cougars’ No. 9 hitter, topped an 0-2 pitch that took a high hop over Brown and into left field to make it 5-2.
“Coach came up to me before batting practice and said ‘Cliff, I just need you to hit, because the last game against Livermore you went 0-for-whatever I went (two).’ I just went out there and hit the ball,” Turner said.
“He’s a good, aggressive hitter to right field, but I told him to hit the ball where it’s pitched, and obviously, they tried to keep it away from him and he went to the third base side a couple of different times hard,” Dave Lafleur said. “If you hit it hard on this infield, you’ve got a chance. The hops are kind of tough sometimes.”
Castonguay led off the Livermore half of the sixth with a single, then Brown turned on a 1-2 fastball and put it over the fence in left to close the gap back to 5-4.
“In each game, you’re going to have some mistakes. Give Willie credit. I made a mistake and he took advantage of it,” Lafleur said. “As a pitcher, you’ve got to be mentally ready for it and deal with the setbacks.”
“Every game should be like this, then you’d be more prepared for the playoffs and the atmosphere,” Dube said. “They got the key hits when they needed them. We couldn’t and we made a couple of mistakes. Both teams are pretty well matched and I think we’ll probably see each other again.”