TURNER — Mt. Blue trailed in its season opener last week but charged back before losing a close contest. 

That experience and mental edge, even in a loss, was crucial in Monday’s baseball game at Leavitt Area high School when the Cougars bounced back from a tumultuous first inning to win 6-4. 

“It was a rough first inning,” Mt. Blue starting pitcher Jackson Joyce said. “I got hit around a little bit, but I tried to stay composed. We had a rough first inning last game against Skowhegan, too, so we know that we have the talent to battle back.”

Leavitt (0-2) batted through its lineup in the first inning, starting the frame with six straight his and runs from its first four batters.

After Mt. Blue fell behind 4-1, Joyce had to regain his composure. Mt. Blue coach Nic Koban said he didn’t need to say much to the veteran Joyce in the dugout after the difficult inning. 

“Nothing really, I just talked to him about a few things about mechanics that we were talking about anyway,” Koban said. “It wasn’t any new lesson or something, it was just about keeping the ball down and stuff like that.”

Before Leavitt’s big half inning, Mt. Blue (1-1) took an early 1-0 lead with a run in the top of the first. Hayden Dippner singled and was hit home two batters later by catcher Evan Downing. That run made the 4-1 deficit easier to handle than the five-run hole the Cougars faced in Friday’s 7-4 season-opening loss to Skowhegan.

Brody Walsh hit a one-out double for Mt. Blue in the top of the second inning and was knocked in by Joyce in the next at-bat. Downing drove home Joyce three batters later, and suddenly the deficit was just a run, 4-3. 

While the Cougars offense was steady over the first couple innings, Leavitt pitcher Garrett Mollica settled in, striking out two batters each of the first four innings, adding one more in the fifth. 

“In the conditions, getting his first start of the season, he really had a lot of command of his pitches and did a nice job of getting out of jams and gave us a chance to win today,” Leavitt coach Chris Cifelli said. “I think he learned from the first few innings that they are a good fastball-hitting team, and so he did a good job of mixing up his pitches and locating his fastball and learning from each batter that was coming up and what would make him successful.”

Jayden Ruel and Matt Wallingford both followed up their first-inning singles with singles in the second, but Leavitt stranded runners in the second and third innings and hit into an unassisted double-play in the fourth. 

“I think we let them off the hook,” Cifelli said. “We had a couple guys in scoring position and had some guys on and they got a double play in the fourth or fifth, we let them off the hook and just didn’t capitalize on those big innings that we could have had.”

While the Hornets’ bats cooled off, Joyce and the Cougars had more time at the plate to finish their comeback.

“(Mollica) definitely frustrated us for a little bit, but we got some timely hits and put the bat on the ball when we needed to and got to the relievers and really started to wear them down, I think,” Joyce said.

The Cougars opened the top of the sixth with a single by Walsh, then Joyce was hit by a pitch, putting two on for Dippner, who walked to load the bases. Aiden Decarolis grounded to shortstop, forcing out Dippner but scoring Walsh to tie the game at 4-4. Downing then drove in his third base runner of the game next to give the Cougars the go-ahead run in the fifth. 

Mt. Blue added a sixth run in the seventh when Walsh walked, stole second and scored when Downing walked with the bases loaded. 

“We just saw them, got some nerves out. … They hit the ball well, put it in play, I think we just settled down and started making plays and starting getting some pitches,” Koban said.

In the bottom of the seventh, Leavitt’s Brogan McCormick reached base, but the Hornets were unable to bring him home.

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