Sloppy Raiders can’t catch up to Panthers

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WALES – Nine errors probably ought to disqualify any baseball team from having a chance to win a game in its final turn at bat.

If not for a fortuitously placed pop-up to Conner McCarthy, and the Waterville shortstop’s alertness to step on second base for a game-ending unassisted double play Wednesday, Oak Hill could have laughed in the face of the defensive gods.

There wasn’t a mite of mirth in the home dugout, however, after the Raiders threw and booted the ball around far too frequently in a 5-4 KVAC Class B defeat at newly christened Bill Fairchild Field.

“Errors have been the name of the game for us so far,” said Oak Hill coach Chad Drouin, whose team dipped to 1-2 on the season when Justin Plourde’s bases-loaded blooper fell into McCarthy’s glove instead of escaping into center field.

McCarthy, who also stroked an RBI single in the third inning for one of Waterville’s five unearned runs, easily doubled Josh Jillson off second base to end the game. In addition to its misadventures with the leather, Oak Hill stranded runners on base in every inning except the sixth.

It all added up to a sunny, windswept afternoon of non-support for southpaw pitching ace Mike Eaton, who allowed only five hits, struck out eight and didn’t walk anyone.

“He pitched pretty well,” Drouin said. “We haven’t done a lot defensively to help him out in either one of his starts.”

Waterville (2-1) let a pair of one-run leads slip away before using three errors and a delayed steal to scratch out the go-ahead run in the sixth inning.

Barrett Moore reached on a bobble by the third baseman and ended up at third with two outs on a fielder’s choice that left Jon Hart safe at first. Hart, whose burly frame doesn’t hint at a base-stealing threat, lured Eaton’s attention with a hefty lead that turned into a leisurely jog toward second base.

Eaton’s throw to second pulled Plourde two footsteps from the bag. While the shortstop’s subsequent throw home to Wally Rines sailed to the backstop, it probably wouldn’t have arrived in time to nab Moore.

“We played some mind games with them,” McCarthy said. “A few breaks went our way and just didn’t go Oak Hill’s way.”

Nick Huggins added an insurance run in the seventh on the strength of two mishandled grounders and a throwing error. Still, the Raiders harbored hopes when Ethan Guerette led off the bottom of the inning with a single to left.

After starting pitcher Jason Lopez worked Rines to a full count, the Panthers brought in sidearm reliever Jeff Dutil. He fanned Rines for the first out, but Eaton’s single and an intentional walk to Jillson jammed the bases.

Brian Bisson sliced it to 5-4 with a bleeder that evaded Dutil’s reach and died in front of McCarthy, scoring Guerette. Prior to the next pitch, McCarthy positioned himself deeply enough in the grass to pluck Plourde’s poke and save the day.

“I saw that (Jillson) had a pretty big lead, so I had it in my mind to make sure I dragged my foot across the base,” McCarthy said. “Oak Hill always gives us a great game. It’s like this whenever we play them in American Legion.”

This was the schools’ first regular-season meeting. Due to decreased enrollment, Waterville is playing its initial Class B season after being a fixture in KVAC Class A.

Eaton went 3-for-4 at the plate with an RBI. Jillson and Devon Eaton each cracked a single and a double, notching four of Oak Hill’s 11 hits.

Dependable pitching and aggressive hitting will keep the Raiders in the hunt, but this year’s KVAC B’ chase promises a parade of tight games settled by base running and defense. So far, that hasn’t been a comforting thought for Oak Hill.

“I don’t think there is a team in our league that is a clear-cut better team than everybody else,” Drouin said.

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