FARMINGTON — Jimmy Neal couldn’t say whether he lost command of his fastball during the 75-minute rain delay at the beginning of Tuesday’s KVAC clash with Skowhegan, but the Mt. Blue junior still had winning stuff.
Neal used a sharp curve to muddle through the early innings, then found his fastball in time to hold off Skowhegan, 4-1, at Hippach Field.
“His curve ball was the only pitch he was getting in from the second inning through the third inning, and that saved us,” first-year Mt. Blue coach Dan Stefanilo said. “Once his fastball found the command, we were all set.”
Alec Wallace homered and Shane Smith cracked an RBI double to lead the Cougar offense, which made the most of its five hits off of Skowhegan starter Alec Hayden.
“We took care of the things we needed to take care of when we had the chances,” Stefanilo said. “We’re not getting very many chances all year long. This is the first time we’ve been able to make the most of every single chance.”
The Cougars (2-5) got all the runs they needed in the third. Dylan Vining led off with a walk and stole second. Neal then hit a line drive that the right fielder overran to his right, putting runners at second and third. After a strikeout, Matt Crowley beat out a grounder to short that scored Vining. Neal scored on a Jordan Whitney ground out to short, then Smith ripped his double over the center fielder’s head to plate Crowley with the third run.
The rain delay didn’t seem to affect Neal, who struck out the first batter he faced on three pitches and retired six of the first seven Indians. A couple of walks got him into a jam in the third and Mike Soucier (3-for-4) drove in Skowhegan’s only run with a two-out single. Another walk loaded the bases, but Neal (seven innings, five hits, eight K’s, five walks) froze Seb Dumont with a 2-2 curve to end the threat.
“That definitely helped me out a lot,” Neal said. “I had a hard time getting the fastball down. The curve made my fastball look a lot bettsr.”
Skowhegan (0-6) put a runner in scoring position in the fourth, but back-to-back K’s, the second on another knee-buckling curve, preserved the 3-1 lead. The Indans tried to put together a two-out rally in the fifth when Soucier singled and Hayden doubled to center. It looked like Soucier could have scored, especially when the throw to the infield was bobbled by the cutoff man, but he stopped at third. Neal then got Dumont to fly out on the next pitch to strand two of the Indians’ nine runners left on base.
“No errors today. That was good to see. We’ve had trouble with that,” Neal said. “The defense was doing a great job. When you get in trouble, you’ve really just got to bear down and try to get out of it.”
In the sixth, Wallace drilled the first pitch he saw from Hayden over the short porch in right to make it 4-1. Skowhegan got the tying run to the plate with two out in the seventh, but Hayden, the cleanup hitter, flew out to left to end it.