OLD ORCHARD BEACH – The Spartans battered the Nor’easters at the Ballpark on Sunday afternoon, pulling away in the fifth on a barrage of singles and doubles, a barrage that brought them seven runs and propelled them toward the 15-8 final.
“Oh, God, we were in last place, we were four,” said Spartans head coach Tim Downing, asked what the W did for the Spartans’ record. “But we had always had good pitching, so what we did was, because this is summer league, we pitched everybody. But since this is playoffs, we’re shortening our staff. We feel we have the best pitching in the League, so when we shorten the staff, if we get ahead on somebody, it’s tough.”
“It was one of those games where nothing could really go right,” said Nor’easters head coach Mark Ouimet. “No matter what you tried, something would find a hole, or they’d make the right call at the right time – give all the credit in the world to ‘em. They went out and played the game hard, played it right, and that’s what happens when you do that.”
Both teams are members of the Greater Northeast Collegiate Baseball League (GNCBL), founded this year as another developmental option for college players, one more local to Southern Maine than similar organizations, which are largely based elsewhere in New England.
The season is nearing its close for these outfits, though; Sunday’s bout was a first-round playoff. Those No. 4 Spartans upended the No. 1 Nor’easters, earning themselves a shot at the Norsemen in Tuesday’s winners’-bracket bout.
For their part, the Nor’easters slid into the losers’ bracket; they vie(d) again on Tuesday as well, this time with the Patriots, who’d fallen to the Norsemen earlier on Sunday.
The Spartans jumped out front of the Nor’easters in the top of the first: Leadoff man Devin Butler (Standish, SMCC) struck out, but two-hitter Henrick Barbin (Exeter, N.H.; Castleton) and clean-up hitter Caleb Burpee (Kennebunk) both scored. Barbin reached home on Burpee’s outfield single – a single that actually ended with Burpee on second, as the Nor’easters man in left attempted a gutsy, 7-2 fielder’s choice, hoping to catch Barbin at the plate. Burpee reached home on what would’ve, should’ve been a routine ground-out by Tim Brigham (Cape Elizabeth, Suffolk), but for a Nor’easters bobbled ball at first.
The Spartans would never relinquish the lead – though, the Nor’easters did surge more than once. First, they balanced the books at 2-2 in the third, when Luke Klenda (Yarmouth, St. Joe’s) and Max Salevsky (Hollis, SMCC) both scored. Both singled to reach base, then rounded to home again when Anthony Diprizio (Rochester, N.H.; St. Joe’s) drove a double into wide rightfield.
The Spartans notched two more in the top of the fourth – Grayson Jennings (Dover, N.H.; St. Joe’s) and Barbin both scored – but the Nor’easters caught up again in the bottom of the same inning, Marc Poirier (Lunenberg, Mass.; St. Joe’s) and Michael Bailey (Manchester, N.H.; Keene State) crossing home for 4-4.
“It was one of those, you keep fighting, you keep grinding,” Ouimet said of his boys’ multiple comebacks. “That’s kind of been our mantra. You go out there and you just play the game; if something doesn’t go your way, accept it and move on.”
In the fifth, the Spartans exploded, barreling through eight hits to tally seven runs. Burpee, Brigham, Mitch Caron (Augusta, Castleton), Cole Carter, Jennings, Barbin and Mitch Sytulek (Raymond, N.H.; Plymouth State) all scored as Burpee, Carter, Jennings, Barbin and Sytulek logged singles and Burpee and Caron logged doubles.
“We played pretty good situational baseball,” said Downing, asked what changed for the Spartans in the fifth. “When we got guys on base, there was a lot of first-and-thirds, we were stealing, try to keep ourselves out of double-plays, and then when we stole, we also hit the ball, so that also put them out of position and allowed a big inning to happen.”
“A couple situations, within that big inning, that could’ve gone one way or the other,” Ouimet said, “that could’ve made the difference. But you give up an eight, nine-run inning, not a whole lot you can do after that.”
The Nor’easters would do their best to chew through their sudden, enormous deficit as the game progressed, adding three in the seventh and one in the eighth, but the Spartans weren’t done scoring either, and hashed four of their own in the seventh to maintain their seven-run advantage overall. 15-8 the final.
“A couple of their lefties are pull-hitters, so we just kind of rotated to that direction,” Downing said, asked about his boys’ defensive successes. “Try to make them hit to the other side of the field, which they don’t do very well – some of them don’t; they’re good players, don’t get me wrong. And basically, guys played pretty good defense: When the ball was hit to them, they fielded it cleanly. It was just kids making plays.”
“I’ve got to give credit to every guy on the team,” Ouimet said. “One of the messages we try to get across to them, too, is ‘The easy thing to do is just cash in the chips and go home.’ That’s the easy thing. The hard thing is just to grind, and keep going and keep going. If you get it, you get it; if you don’t, you don’t.”
Barbin finished 2-5 with a single, a double, three runs and an RBI on the day; Sytulek finished 3-5 with a single, a double, a solo homer, and two runs; Burpee also went 3-5, but had two singles and a double as he crossed the plate three times. Jennings went 2-4 with two singles and two runs. Unsurprisingly, a handful of other Spartans contributed as well.
Diprizio went 3-5 for the Nor’easters, posting a pair of singles and a double, along with a run. Ben Gravel (Rochester, N.H.; St. Joe’s) went 2-5 with a single, a triple, and a run. Bailey went 2-4 with a single, a double and a run. Salvesky went 2-5 on a pair of singles and scored thrice.
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Nor’easters second baseman Max Salevsky watches the action at the plate, prepped to field.
Devin Butler hops off third for the Spartans, waiting for his chance to spring home.
Troy Bogdahn (Hollis, St. Joe’s) took over pitching duties for the Nor’easters late in their bout with the Spartans.