SOUTH PARIS — Carrying back-to-back losses into Monday’s KVAC clash with Lewiston, Oxford Hills needed a strong pitching effort from D.J. Croy.
Croy delivered, going the distance in a 3-0 victory. But, in the process, the Vikings suffered another loss that could mean Croy and the rest of the pitching staff will have to come through more often.
Oxford Hills spoiled a fine performance by Lewiston’s Jeff Keene and scored all three of its runs in the fifth inning. The big blow: a two-run single by Cody Hadley. Croy took care of the rest, scattering four hits and never allowing a Blue Devil baserunner to third base.
“This was huge,” said Croy, who took the loss in a 3-1 defeat to Brewer last Wednesday, which was followed by Saturday’s tough 7-6 loss in 12 innings to Cony. “Saturday was just unlucky. We weren’t down about it. We were just mad and we came ready to play today.”
Croy (three Ks, one walk) battled Keene (five hits, two Ks, four walks, two intentional) through four scoreless innings. The Vikings (8-2) left at least one runner on through the first three frames before Keene set the side down on just five pitches in the fourth.
“Jeff pitched well,” Lewiston coach Todd Cifelli said. “I always know he’ll battle for me. That’s a pretty good lineup.”
Croy got the game-winning fifth going with a leadoff single. Kyle Farrar moved him to second with a bunt that he just barely missed beating out. Nate Dubois did beat out his bunt, putting runners at first and third. Andrew Keniston grounded to third and easily beat the relay throw from second to prevent the double play and allow Croy to score.
A passed ball opened up first base, so the Blue Devils intentionally walked Matt Verrier. The same strategy worked in the first inning but backfired this time. After a double steal put runners at second and third, Cody Hadley, who flew out in his previous at-bat following an intentional pass to Verrier, hit a shallow fly to left. Nate Berube ran in and made a valiant diving attempt, but the ball hit off his glove, scoring Keniston and Verrier with some valuable insurance.
“With the passed ball and first base open, walking Verrier was a no-brainer,” Cifelli said. “Like he’s done all year, Cody came through, hit the ball with a little bit of top-spin, just out of Nate’s reach.”
With one of their top hitters, Mekae Hyde (knee), relegated to pinch-hitting duty, the Devils (7-4) struggled to get much going against Croy. Luck wasn’t on their side either. Luke Cote reached on a one-out infield hit in the first, then was immediately doubled up on a hit-and-run that Scott Ouellette lined softly to Ethan Davidson at first base. Another potential rally was snuffed when Vikings left fielder Jordan Croteau made a nice running catch near his shoe tops to rob Ouellette of a hit. In the seventh, Corbin Hyde led off with a single. Dubois dropped a fly ball from Conroy LeBlond in center, but was able to throw to second for the force out. Croy finished strong with back-t0-back strikeouts.
The only time Lewiston put two runners on base in the same inning was the fourth on a hit and an error with two out. Croy got LeBlond to hit a grounder to third and Farrar beat Keene to the bag to end the threat.
“I was throwing the curve ball a lot more than usual, just trying to get ground balls,” Croy said. “I wasn’t trying to strike everyone out. We have a great defense, so I just try to get ground balls and pop flies whenever I can.”
“D.J. pitched great, and this was a big win,” Oxford Hills coach Shane Slicer said. “With one more loss in a row, they start to question themselves, so I thought it was great for our confidence to get one against a good team. It was great that Cody got a little lucky. He hit a laser beam at Cony with a guy on second and the guy made a great play.”
The Vikings’ luck turned bad in the sixth when their top pitcher, Erik Henderson, injured an ankle sliding into second on a pickoff attempt.
“Erik’s going to be out a while,” Slicer said. “He sprained it. We’re going to have to mix-and-match, maybe put Cody (the Vikes’ closer) in the starting role, which we didn’t want to do but he’s certainly able. Hopefully, (Henderson) can bounce back to give us a playoff run.”