The Gray-NG pitchers had a problem early on of putting the leadoff Kennebunk batter on, doing do in each of the first four innings. The first instance was harmless. Derek Smith smacked a first-inning double off of Gray-NG starter Daulton Corthell, but Corthell stranded him there by retiring the next three batters.

Zander Kosmala then led off the top of the second with a four-pitch walk, and scored the game’s first run three batters later on Nathan Lapointe’s single to left. Thomas Wildes later scored on Ian Connors’ RBI groundout, giving the Rams (1-0) a 2-0 lead.

The Kennebunk defense then helped out the Patriots (1-1) offense in the bottom half of the frame. Josiah Rottari drew a lead-off walk, then after Kennebunk starter Justin Wiggins struck out Jake Winchester looking a pair of Gray-NG batters reached on consecutive fielding errors by shortstop Ryan Coughlan. Rottari and Corthell (who was the beneficiary of the first error) both scored when Tanner Mann grounded a two-run single under second baseman Smith’s glove.

“We were shaky in the field,” Kennebunk coach Brian Dill said. “I thought was going to be one of our strong points, and I think it still will be. Were just maybe a little nervous opening day.”

Coughlan recovered to turn another grounder his way into a routine put-out to end the inning, leaving Patriot runners at second and third. He then singled off Gray-NG reliever Zach Mann to open the third. Mann gave up singles to two of the next three batters (Eric Aiken and Jack Kiley), with the Rams scoring on a balk and Kiley’s solid base hit to center.

“Not having the dominant pitcher is no fault of anybody’s, it’s just the way it is,” Gray-NG coach Brad Smith said.

The Patriots then took advantage of Wiggins’ shakiest inning, drawing a pair of walks and getting RBI singles from Winchester and Corthell to tie the game 4-4 after three innings.

Another lead-off walk issued by a Gray-NG pitcher led to one too many two-run innings for the Patriots to handle. Connors and Smith both walked on 3-2 pitches to start the frame. Connors came in to score on a sacrifice fly by Wiggins, and Smith later scored on a wild pitch.

“I would say your percentages of scoring when you get that first guy on are pretty good,” Dill said. “It helped a lot. If we do that all year we’ll be in good shape.”

“What can you do? You don’t want to give them a nice pitch to hit. So it’s either a walk or their going to get a base hit,” Smith said of his inexperienced pitching staff. “We simply have to work on that.”

Wiggins made sure the Patriots weren’t able to respond for a third consecutive inning, firing a 1-2-3 bottom of the fourth.

Rottari, Gray-NG’s third pitcher of the game, then delivered a scoreless ining of his own, though it was far from a 1-2-3 frame. After Wildes led off with a fly-out to right Lapointe reached on an error, then gave way to pinch-runner Jacob Littlefield. Two batters later Smith singled to put runners on the corners, then stole second to put two in scoring position. Wiggins was in the process of drawing a walk to load the bases when Winchester fired a pick-off throw from behind the plate to gun down Littlefield at third for the third out.

“We left some runners out there. We left some runs out there,” Dill said. “In these kind of games, home team, you don’t want to give them too many chances.”

The home team Patriots then cut the deficit to one in the bottom of the fifth. Nick McCann hit an infield single to second to lead off the inning, moved around the bases on consecutive groundouts, then scored on a wild pitch by Wiggins.

That was it for the Patriots offense, however. Kiley and Smith each pitched an inning of relief, allowing just one base runner to reach and get as far as first in both frames.

The Rams, meanwhile, tacked on an insurance run in the top of the seventh. Lapointe reached on a one-out error, stole second, then scored on pinch-hitter Bryan Hickey’s RBI single.

Rottari pitched well in relief to keep the Patriots in it, scattering three hits and one walk while allowing just one unearned run in three innings. The Gray-NG lineup produced just five hits, but also drew four walks and struck out just two times — a big improvement for a team that Smith said strikes out too much.

The Gray-NG skipper called Kennebunk “a pretty good ball club” that has gotten the better of the Patriots in recent years. He was resigned to find positives in his inexperienced team’s performance in its first test of the season.

“I think the kids hung in there,” Smith said. “We came close today, just not close enough.”

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