Poland’s Noah Salmons slides into home to score before the ball reaches Gray-New Gloucester catcher Nick McCann during Wednesday’s game.

Poland’s Noah Salmons slides into home to score before the ball reaches Gray-New Gloucester catcher Nick McCann during Wednesday’s game.

GRAY — Although their own tournament hopes were already extinguished, the Poland Knights had more than enough incentive treat their season finale against rival Gray-New Gloucester as if it was the most important game of the season.

Poland starting pitcher Ben Bernier gutted out five innings of shutout baseball and the Knights scored all of their runs in the sixth inning and held on for a 4-1 win over the Patriots on Wednesday.

A win would have virtually guaranteed Gray-New Gloucester a spot in the Class B South playoffs, which won’t be finally determined until some of their Class B South competition finish their seasons Thursday.

With the win, the Knights (5-11) also avenged an 11-0 loss to the Patriots (7-9) early in the season.

“We knew they were going to be able to make playoffs if they beat us, but also this is a huge rivalry,” said Bernier, a senior. “We’re right down the road and we’re always butting heads. They’re a really, really good team, so I came out with a little extra today. This is my last game, so I left it all on the line.”

Gray-New Gloucester left 14 runners on base. They left the bases loaded three times — in the third, fifth and sixth. 

Bernier allowed just two hits in five innings but walked seven. The key was that he had two outs when he got into the tightest spots but bared down and battled his way out.

Besides leaving the bases loaded with two out in the third and fifth, he escaped a second-and-third-with-two-out jam in the first and a first-and-second-with-two-out predicament in the second. 

“The whole time, I was just 100 percent (confident) that the defense was going to make the plays when they needed to,” Bernier said. “These guys have come a long way since the beginning of the year. That’s not the same team that we started with. It’s really helpful as a pitcher to know you have a good defense behind you at all times.”

The only inning he faced the minimum three batters was the fourth, when Jake Winchester reached on an error with two out but was erased by catcher Jake Wiseman when he tried to steal second.

Bernier got out of the first with a pop-up to second, the second with a fly out to left, and the third with a called third strike. 

His 102nd and final pitch induced a ground out to second, ending the fifth with the Patriots’ second squander with the bases loaded.

“My command was a bit off today, but the big thing my coaches have been teaching me this year is my attitude,” Bernier said. “They tell me that I definitely have the physical skills to get out of a jam like that, but the biggest part for me is my head. They just tell me to keep my composure and make sure that I’m only doing the job that I can do.”

“They drove up his pitch count pretty quick and had some long innings,” Poland coach Charlie Pray said. “The great thing about Ben, and I’ve called him it all year, I told him bear down and be the bulldog. He needed to execute and make those pitches, and he did, and we were fortunate enough to make some plays behind him.”

Bernier’s counterpart, Gray-New Gloucester’s John Henry Villanueva, cruised through the first five innings on 60 pitches, allowing just three hits while not walking a batter and fanning four.

“He gave us chances to win,” Gray-New Gloucester coach Brad Smith said. “Today’s game was certainly a microcosm of the whole season. I thought we played decent defense and John Henry pitched a hell of a game for the better part of six innings. With a team that does not hit very well, we can’t squander those opportunities.

“Full credit to Poland. They made the outs they needed to make, and offensively, they came up with the key hits.”

Gawain Tibbets’ leadoff single got the decisive rally started in the sixth. Bernier sacrificed him to second, then Brady Downing moved him to third with a seeing-eye single between the diving third baseman and shortstop. Caleb Hodgkin then hit a bouncer to second base that was hit too softly to make a play on Tibbetts at the plate.

“I think as at-bats went by we were adapting to (Villanueva) more,” Downing said. “We’d seen his curve ball, seen his fastball, and we were able to sit back on it and drive it.”

After a hit batter, Jake Wiseman (three hits) ripped a two-run double into the gap in left-center. Quinn Callahan drove him home with a double to left to make it 4-0.

“We talked about being a little more aggressive. We were a little passive at the start of the game,” Pray said. “Villanueva was doing a great job of attacking the zone and getting ahead in the count, and we became a little more aggressive and were jumping on those first pitches.”

Gray-New Gloucester’s third missed opportunity with the bases loaded came in the sixth against reliever Noah Salmons, although they did finally push a run across when Villanueva’s two-out bloop single scored Jake Winchester. 

A walk loaded the bases again, but Salmons got Eli Winchester to ground into a force out at second to keep the score 4-1. 

Salmons allowed only a two-out walk in the seventh and finished it off with a ground out to short.

Poland’s Adrien Melanson manages to snag a wide throw and swing his glove back to tag Gray-New Gloucester’s Jake Winchester out during a steal attempt of second base during Wednesday’s game.

Poland’s Adrien Melanson manages to snag a wide throw and swing his glove back to tag Gray-New Gloucester’s Jake Winchester out during a steal attempt of second base during Wednesday’s game.

When a hard grounder took a high hop on Poland’s Adrien Melanson during Wedensday’s game agaisnt Gray-New Gloucester, he managed to stay with it and throw to second to record a force out.

When a hard grounder took a high hop on Poland’s Adrien Melanson during Wedensday’s game agaisnt Gray-New Gloucester, he managed to stay with it and throw to second to record a force out.

Poland’s Brady Downing gobbles up a grounder before throwing out a Gray-New Gloucester batter during Wednesday’s victory.

Poland’s Brady Downing gobbles up a grounder before throwing out a Gray-New Gloucester batter during Wednesday’s victory.

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