No great surprise, then, that Cougars’ senior southpaw Gavin Arsenault found another gear, notched a strikeout and coaxed a harmless ground ball to escape a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning and seal a 4-3 victory Friday afternoon at Harlow Park.

The Cougars (3-1) won their third game in five days after a season-opening loss in Arsenault’s previous start at Monmouth. The Raiders fell to 0-4 with their third one-run loss.

“We did not have our best stuff today, and Gavin was not as sharp as he can be, but we did what we’ve always done and gutted out a win,” Dirigo coach Ryan Palmer said. “I don’t care how ugly they are, I just want wins, so I’m happy.”

With one out in the seventh, Arsenault surrendered Connor Nilsson’s third hit of the afternoon, piggybacked by Kaleb Morrissette’s windblown double. After an intentional walk of Dalton Therrien, Jonah Martin singled to left and pulled Oak Hill within a run.

Oak Hill coach Matt Bray brought in senior Duncan Trotter to bat for No. 5 hitter Brent Mulherin. It was an obvious attempt to improve the Raiders’ chance of a successful squeeze bunt. Arsenault got Trotter to foul off a high fastball on his best opportunity, then froze him for a called third strike.

“It was a classic Dirigo game,” Bray said. “They don’t have as much talent as they’ve had in years past, but they’re so well coached. All their kids play tough, no matter how much pure talent is on the field.”

Matt Clifford, who singled in the fourth and sixth innings, followed Trotter with a bounce out to Riley Robinson at first base for the final out.

Oak Hill stranded two or more runners on base in three of the final four frames.

“I got stronger as we went through the innings. I knew I had great defense behind me,” Arsenault said. “We’re a young team. It’s great to get experience in games like this. This is big.”

Arsenault (2-for-2) also produced in big spots at the plate throughout the afternoon.

In the fourth, with two out, he beat out a slow roller between first and second base to plate Chase Thebarge with the tying run. That drew a late, wide throw to the bag, allowing Mason Corriveau to score for a 2-1 lead.

Thebarge drew a leadoff walk in the sixth. Corriveau moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt. Luke Lueders’ single preceded an Arsenault sacrifice fly to right for what proved an invaluable insurance run.

“Hitting leadoff, I know I have to start things off for our team, try to get things going,” Arsenault said.

Arsenault outdueled Martin in a battle of MVC aces.

Only one of the runs was earned against Martin, who allowed five hits, struck out six, walked two and hit four batters. His Dirigo counterpart didn’t have a 1-2-3 inning after retiring the first five Raiders, but Arsenault fanned eight.

“We’re short-handed. We’re very thin. We’ve got to manufacture runs and get good pitching and good defense, and that’s what we did today,” Palmer said.

Oak Hill jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the third when Nilsson beat out an infield single for the Raiders’ initial hit, stole second and scored on a line drive to center by Morrissette.

“This team needs to find a way to have a little bit more fight early in ballgames, and they just don’t,” Bray said. “When we got behind, our at-bats got better. Our swings got better. It’s noticeable, and it’s been that way every game this year. It was nice to get a little one-run lead, and that’s about as much of a lead as we’ve had all season.”

Two errors in each of the fourth and fifth innings bit the Raiders.

In the fifth, after Oak Hill cut down a run at the plate on a nice stab by Martin with the bases loaded, Cooper Chiasson scored on the back end of a double steal as Cam Turner lured an errant throw to second. Chiasson reached base on the previous Oak Hill miscue.

The Raiders reduced that deficit to 3-2 in the sixth when Clifford singled, raced all the way to third on a passed ball, then scored on an Austin Noble groundout.

Dirigo put its leadoff man on base in every inning.

“I was impressed with Jonah getting out of jam after jam after jam,” Bray said. “He threw a lot of leadoff walks, and that would come back to haunt him.”

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