NAL, Gayton play to a draw

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AUBURN – Tuesday evening’s New Auburn-Gayton Post baseball battle seemed to have everything: Marquee pitching matchup; five-run rally out of nowhere in the top of the seventh inning; bizarre, game-saving double play by a five-man infield in the bottom of the eighth.

Everything but a winner. With the sun obscured behind the tall pines that separate the baseball and softball fields at Pettengill Park, the umpires and managers convened at 8:15 p.m. and elected to suspend the Zone 3 American Legion showdown at 6-6 after eight innings.

No immediate makeup date was announced. The game ultimately will resume in the top of the ninth, with the lineup cards frozen and relievers Jacob Marcum of NAL and Eddie West of Gayton as the pitchers of record.

“We have to get together and look at our schedules. We only have one game left with each other, and it’s a singleton at our place,” said Gayton manager Todd Cifelli. “I fully understand that they might not want to give up their home field.”

Neither the extra innings nor the dozen runs appeared likely from the outset, with soon-to-be college sophomores Brady Blackman of Southern Maine working for New Auburn and Luke Potter of Bowdoin on the hill for Gayton. It was quite literally men playing against boys: Potter’s battery mate was Mekae Hyde, a recent graduate of Lewiston Middle School.

New Auburn (6-3) chipped away against Potter, scoring two runs in the second, one in the third and one in the fourth. Post 153 chalked up another tally at the expense of left-handed reliever Alex Wong in the sixth, and Blackman took a 5-0 lead and a two-hit shutout into the seventh.

Devan Knight forced an errant throw from shortstop to lead off that frame. Blackman fanned Jon Paradis for his 11th strikeout, but then fatigue and errors created the perfect storm.

Hyde was hit by a pitch. Wong walked on four offerings to load the bases. Pinch hitter Mike Fontaine reached on a booted grounder to break up the shutout.

Travis Dyke’s fly to deep center scored Hyde, but produced Gayton’s second out. No matter. With Blackman’s pitch count cresting over 120, Erik Waite walked, and Greg Labonte cleared the bases with a game-tying double.

“In hindsight, I probably should have pulled Brady a little bit earlier,” said NAL skipper Bob Blackman, the pitcher’s father. “We didn’t have anybody warming up. Next thing you know, you’ve got the bases loaded, the key hit tied everything up, and by that point it was too late.”

Blackman struck out Knight to strand the tying run at second.

Singles by Hyde and Wong and New Auburn’s third infield error of the night put Gayton in front, 6-5, in the eighth. Back stormed NAL on a leadoff double by Bump Heldman and a single from Devin Flynn, who wound up at third when Gayton’s throw home was late and far off the mark.

Cifelli subsequently shifted one of his outfielders to the infield, and that equivalent of a Hail Mary produced the play of the game. Mike Muise was thrown out easily on a one-hopper to shortstop. When Flynn was caught leaning too far down the line, he wound up on the business end of a 6-3-5-2 double play.

“He was a little bit too overly aggressive and got himself caught in no-man’s land,” Blackman said. “Again, it’s hindsight.”

West surrendered an infield single to Casey Parker before retiring Adam Lutz on a comebacker to end the inning.

“They made a wise decision,” Cifelli said of the call to stop the game at that juncture. “If you only play half an inning, it reverts back to the previous inning. And especially with the way we were hitting the ball, that wouldn’t have been fair to our kids.”

Flynn and Parker each had three of New Auburn’s 13 hits, with Lutz and Heldman both pounding out a pair. Hyde was the lone repeat hitter for Gayton (5-3).

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