AUBURN — The right arm that silenced the reigning Class C baseball champions suddenly couldn’t stay still.
“This is huge. I’m shaking right now. Look,” said Jay High School sophomore Jake Lord, extending his trembling fingers and excitedly trying to digest the magnitude of the Tigers’ 6-5 win Monday at St. Dominic Regional High School.
Improbable, because Jay currently carries a dozen players in its entire program. Impressive, because the Saints were making their Mountain Valley Conference debut after winning three state titles and five regional crowns the last six years.
Oh, and Jay was without longtime coach Chris Bessey, suspended for one game according to Maine Principals’ Association protocol after he was ejected from a preseason game.
“This was Bessey’s plan and this is Bessey’s team,” said interim coach Kelly Wells. “It means a lot to win it for him after coaching with Chris for two years and coming up with these kids.”
Wells led Jay’s junior varsity the last two years. This spring, with barely enough bodies to field one high school team, Wells is in charge of the junior high program.
Whoever’s decision it was to bring on Lord in relief of senior starter Kyle Storer, it likely was a game-saver.
Supplied with the one-run lead after Jay scored three runs in the top of the fourth inning, Lord shut out St. Dom’s over the final four frames. He allowed three hits, walked two and struck out one. Lord retired seven straight in one stretch.
“I knew I had to keep it down in the zone,” Lord said. “Once I got into a little bit of a groove I felt like I was able to find my pitches.”
Lord’s sole struggles came in the seventh, when he issued consecutive one-out walks to Garrett Darnell and Jimmy Theriault.
But he coaxed Will Desmarais into a hard grounder to shortstop, and Grant Richards, Jordan Couture and Mat Ferland spun the double play to end it.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to realize that people aren’t going to roll over and just give it to us,” said St. Dom’s coach Bob Blackman. “We just couldn’t get the key hit.”
St. Dom’s featured four freshmen in its starting lineup and was missing three senior starters who are on the school’s annual missions trip to Mississippi. And starting pitcher Kurt Johnson, who only received medical clearance to pitch after an MRI late last week, was on a 50-pitch limit.
Jay sent nine batters to the plate against Johnson in the second inning. Jordan DeMillo put the Tigers on the board when he scored on a throwing error after a squeeze bunt by Jake Bessey. Richards and Couture followed with RBI singles.
The Saints answered with a four-run rally against Storer, fueled by five consecutive walks and a bases-clearing double by Alex Parker.
Two more walks set the stage for Theriault’s sacrifice fly and a 5-3 Saints lead in the third.
With Johnson departed, the bottom of the Tigers’ order set the table at reliever Joe Bryant’s expense in the fourth. Billy Calden was hit by a pitch before stealing second and third. Jake Bessey walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Richards’ RBI single reduced the deficit to one. Couture’s groundout to third tied it. Lord made the second out but pushed home Richards with the eventual game-winning run on another hard-hit ball to the left side.
“That’s Bessey Ball: Being aggressive on the basepaths,” Wells said. “They’ve bought into his system.”
Parker had three of St. Dom’s four hits. Richards was 3-for-4 from the leadoff spot for Jay, which banged out eight hits against four Saints hurlers.