MONMOUTH — Monmouth Academy’s first trip through the batting order Friday afternoon against Dirigo High School ace Gavin Arsenault was a cluster of K’s. Six of the nine Mustangs struck out, each one down swinging.

The next cycle, however, was a cacophony of contact. Gage Cote scored all the way from first on a single to trigger a two-out, two-run rally in the third inning, and Monmouth racked up five more runs in the fourth to punctuate a 7-1 victory in a season-opening MVC baseball showdown.

“I thought Gavin threw the ball very well today,” Monmouth coach Eric Palleschi said. “The first time through we were behind and we had to make some adjustments, and it worked. We saw him twice last year, so we knew what to expect. He’s a lot quicker than he was last year.”

The Mustangs’ mound combination of Nick Sanborn and Hunter Richardson served up a one-hitter. Arsenault’s leadoff double in the fourth against fellow lefty Sanborn was the lone blemish.

Richardson ripped a pair of doubles to lead Monmouth, which handed Dirigo its lone loss of the 2015 regular season in last year’s opener. This time, the thin (10 players) but experienced Mustangs are the consensus league favorite.

“We’re hoping we have a small chip on our shoulder, just trying to advance a little farther than we have been,” Richardson said. “We know what we’re doing and know what it takes to get there. It’s just a matter of capitalizing on big situations.”

Cote and Nick Dovinsky also delivered two hits apiece for the Mustangs, who have reached the Class C South semifinals the past two seasons.

As was the case so many times a year ago, Cote’s legs gave Monmouth a jumpstart. He beat out an infield single by a half-step, then read Dovinsky’s floater into shallow right field perfectly. Palleschi gave Cote the green light to race home while the senior utility man was only halfway between second and third.

“The wheels there, when he gets on base, it’s fun to watch,” Palleschi said. “I know everybody likes watching him. The kid can fly, and he has great instincts, too.”

Richardson cranked his second two-bagger of the game to deep center, plating Dovinsky. And although Arsenault fanned Sanborn to end the frame, the hits and hustle spilled over into the Mustangs’ next raps.

Chandler Harris christened the bottom of the fourth with a first-pitch, line-drive base hit to center. One out later, Avery Pomerleau scampered out an infield hit and Mat Foulke walked to load the bases for Devon Poisson, whose squeeze bunt was misplayed for the third Monmouth run.

Cote knocked in two more with a double. Another squeeze, this time by Dovinsky, escalated into an RBI single. Sanborn plated the final run on a groundout.

“We just had a bad fourth inning,” Dirigo coach Ryan Palmer said. “You’re looking at a 2-1 game instead of a 7-1 game if we get out of that. We’re very, very inexperienced. We have players playing out of position. That’s just what we’re up against. We are a team that’s going to get better.”

Arsenault scored the Cougars’ lone run after his double, advancing to third on a wild pitch and scoring on a grounder by Gus Brown that turned into a Monmouth error.

Dirigo loaded the bases with the help of a dropped third strike and two walks, but Sanborn coaxed a slow roller from Mason Corriveau to Travis Hartford at first to end the threat.

Sanborn struck out six before leaving with one out in the fifth. Richardson retired the final seven Cougars after issuing a walk to Cooper Chiasson.

“I got tired at the end,” Sanborn said. “The fastball in the beginning was working well, and then getting them off balance with the curveball was good.”

Arsenault struck out seven and walked three. He gave way to Cam Turner after five innings.

“He did not deserve to lose 7-1. I thought he pitched better than that,” Palmer said. “What I think puts (Monmouth) above everybody else is that they have four pitchers they can go to. A lot of teams have one pitcher and then a few that are in progress.”

Sanborn’s pickoff move fooled Arsenault to end the first inning.

The Mustangs’ senior starter sat down eight consecutive Cougars prior to Dirigo’s lone base hit.

“Ryan’s got some inexperienced kids there,” Palleschi said. “That one inning we were able to take advantage of it, and I thought that made the difference. Nothing-nothing game for a while. It was fun to watch those guys throw.”

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