Richmond pitcher Zach Small (8) celebrates after throwing a no-hit shutout against Fort Fairfield in the Class D state championship game at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor on Saturday. Richmond defeated Fort Fairfield 11-0 in five innings. (Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel)
BANGOR — From the first pitch Zach Small threw in the bullpen warming up, Richmond catcher Trystin Shea could tell.
His pitcher had it.
“I knew he was on right from the first pitch he threw. I mean, the speed was perfect. He was throwing good strikes and everything. He did awesome this game,” Shea said, pointing at the Mansfield Stadium scoreboard over his left shoulder, behind the right field wall. “Right there, no-hitter. That explains it all.”
Small was dominant, as were all the Bobcats on Saturday afternoon. Small allowed one walk and hit a batter while striking out seven Fort Fairfield hitters, leading Richmond to the Class D baseball championship with an 11-0 victory in a game shortened to five innings due to the mercy rule.
The title was the first for the program since 2010.
“That’s the reason I’ve been playing, to bring one of these back,” Small, a senior, said, pointing at the state championship trophy. “Today, we were able to do it.”
Small walked Fort Fairfield’s leadoff hitter, Malcolm Langner, in the bottom of the first inning. Small then proceeded to retire 13 Tigers in a row. The streak ended when Small hit Dylan Jandreau with a pitch with one out in the fifth. Small then got a groundout and struck out Alex Sprague to end the game and set off Richmond’s celebration.
“(Small) was on. You know, he wanted this game. These seniors have been around. This is about as special as it gets,” Richmond coach Ryan Gardner said. “He’s talked about this a long time. A long time. He drives us. He’s our engine.”
Small said he didn’t know he had a no-hitter until the team went out to right field to pose for victory photos in front of the scoreboard.
“When they told me, I looked over. I didn’t even know,” Small said. “Lately, I was struggling with the curve. I liked the mound. I was able to get over the top of the curveball, and it was able to be effective today. In that second inning, I think I threw seven (curves) in that inning, and that was when I was really feeling it.”
With Shea calling the pitches, it was quickly apparent Small’s best pitch was his curveball. The sharp breaking pitch had Fort Fairfield’s right-handed hitters flailing when it tailed off the plate, and flinching when Small caught the inside corner. Shea estimated 75 percent of Small’s 60 pitches were curves.
“We were focusing on curveballs. They can’t hit them. Not to be mean or anything, but I don’t think they’d ever seen one,” Shea said.
Added Gardner: “They go through the order once, and we’re looking for people buckling. Also, we’re looking for the kids who aren’t getting around on the fastball. Because we want to limit pitch count, too. If you can blow somebody away in three pitches, you need to do it.”
Fort Fairfield coach John Ala said Small had the best velocity of any pitcher his Tigers have seen all season.
“Fastest pitcher we’ve seen, and a good curveball, too,” Ala said.
The Tigers ran into trouble early, giving up three runs in the top of the first inning, and four more in the second. Starting pitcher Isaac Cyr struggled with his command. A wild pitch allowed Matt Rines to score on a wild pitch for the game’s first run. Ben Gardner scored on another wild pitch in the second to push Richmond’s lead to 4-0.
“We came out, and we had a case of the nerves. They’re pretty battle-tested, but for whatever reason, the nerves got the best of us the first inning or two, and we had a hard time recovering,” Ala said.
The Bobcats were aggressive on the bases, stealing 10 bags on 11 attempts. Richmond finished with 10 hits. Small and Dakotah Gilpatric each doubled, and Nathan Kendrick had an RBI triple in the second.
“We were expecting a little more velocity from this guy (Cyr), and we struggled to time it up. Once we got the timing down, 10 hits speaks for itself. We hit the ball hard today,” Small said.
Daniel Stewart scored three runs and drove in a pair for the Bobcats. Gilpatric scored twice, and Shea drove in two runs.
Last season’s loss to Searsport in the Class D South regional final was a motivator to the Bobcats this season, Gardner said.
“We were so hyper-focused. We were so disappointed last year with the outcome with Searsport,” Gardner said.
Richmond players celebrate after defeating Fort Fairfield 11-0 with teammates in the Class D state championship game at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor on Saturday. (Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel)Richmond’s Dakotah Gilpatrick (14) nearly gets hit in the head by a pitch from Fort Fairfieldl’s Isaac Cyr (10) in the Class D state championship game at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor on Saturday. (Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel)Richmond’s Matt Rines (2) steals second base as Fort Field’s Alex Sprague (6) tries to handle the throw during the Class D state championship game at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor on Saturday. (Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel)Richmond players hoist the Class D state championship trophy after beating Fort Fairfield 11-0 on Saturday in Bangor. (Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel)