POLAND — Gray-New Gloucester had faced Poland pitcher Ally Gagne twice in its two meetings with the Knights in the regular season.

The Patriots felt like they had a good feel for Gagne’s rhythm heading into Tuesday’s preliminary playoff game and, in the fifth inning, Alexa Thayer finally hit the perfect tempo to the tune of an inside-the-park home run that lifted Gray-NG to a 3-0 win.

The No. 11 Patriots (8-9) move on to face No. 3 Cape Elizabeth (14-2) on Thursday.

“When we had them in the regular season it definitely didn’t go our way,” Gray-NG coach Amanda Harmon said. “We had a tough game where we kind of lost ourselves and the second time we saw them we kind of were a little more energized. They are a team we can compete with and we just needed to put it all together and today we did.”

Throughout the first four innings, Poland kept Gray-NG on its toes. Gray-NG starter Madi Pelletier was pitching well, and the Patriots only managed one hit in the first four innings.

“I think that we were timing her up the whole game we just weren’t connecting,” Thayer said. “We were either under it or over it. When we finally had gotten through a couple at-bats we knew we could hit her. She was really good but we knew we could get the hits that we needed.”

The patience paid off for Gray-NG in the fifth.

Morgan Curtis walked and moved to second base after Mikaela Ryan bunted and reached base when Poland threw out lead runner Chelsea Davis, who had started the inning with a single. Both Curtis and Ryan moved into scoring position after a groundout by Izzy Brindley which led to Thayer.

According to Harmon, Thayer’s game-changing at-bat lasted 14 pitches. On the 12th pitch, Thayer popped into foul ground by first base but two fielders ran into each other, forcing the ball to fall to the ground, and keeping the two-out inning alive.

Two pitches later Thayer cranked a ball into deep left field over the fielder’s head about a foot in front of the wall. Thayer’s sprint speed was the difference in her inside-the-park home run that scored three to take a 3-0 lead.

“I knew I had to be patient because sometimes I’m really anxious,” Thayer said. “I just tried to make a lot of contact with it until I got the right pitch, and that one felt like it was right. I’ve never done that before so it was really awesome, just to be able to pick up my team and get the lead that I needed it felt really good.”

While Gray-NG found a lightning strike in the middle of a dry spell at the plate, Poland left a runner on base in each inning, including two in the sixth.

“They found a lot of that energy late in the game,” Poland co-coach Kayla Vannah said. “We talk about finding that in the first and second inning because after three outs in the seventh there’s nothing more we can do. So, what can we do beforehand?”

“When we wait until the sixth or seventh inning to score we’re in trouble,” co-coach Katrina Seeley said. “If we start scoring early in the game is when we usually come out on top.”

Pelletier was able to get out of both the sixth and seventh innings without giving up a run, even though in the sixth the Knights got two runners in scoring position. Harmon knew what Thayer was capable of and had confidence she’d find a path to a win.

“Just stay in control,” Harmon said. “She’s doing the work, the girls have to come behind her and step up. She takes deep breaths, stays composed, and takes her time to do her job and realizes that if it gets in play. then the girls behind her have to do it. She’s done her part.

“She pitched a great game right to the end. She did great and stepped up,” Harmon said. “Her and Alexa would be the two that stepped up, defense for her and offense for Alexa.”

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