WATERVILLE — As his team fought for the top spot in the league, Thomas College baseball coach Greg King reminded his players about the difference between panicking and pressure.

As King explains it, you want to have the expectation to win, but not forget the little things that made you successful in the first place. So you put just enough pressure on yourself to remind yourself to do what you need to do to excel.

When you’ve extended a winning streak to 14 games and set a school record for victories in the regular season, things like that start to make a lot of sense. Thomas did both Sunday afternoon, sweeping New England College in a North Eastern Athletic Conference doubleheader, 3-2 and 9-5.

Thomas (20-9, 15-1) is fighting for the division lead — and the right to host the conference tournament with Castleton, who is also 15-1 in league play. That makes every game important, and the Terriers needed big plays to come from behind in both of Sunday’s games.

In the opener, NEC (15-14, 5-13) took the lead in the top of the fourth on a double by Lucas Burgess and a two-out RBI single by Juan Berrios. Thomas got that run back in the bottom of the inning when Joshua Gray knocked one over the left-center field fence. In the fifth, the Terriers got one run when Ethan Hurley doubled off the third-base bag, and another when Ben Goodall singled in Hurley.

Thomas still held that lead in the sixth when Berrios came to bat with runners on second and third and one out. Berrios slapped a grounder between third and short that looked like it would be a base hit. But Thomas shortstop Jeff Richardson backhanded the ball, and without pausing, whirled and sent an off-balance throw to first. The one-bounce throw arrived just ahead of Berrios for the second out, and Thomas pitcher Danny Burke got the next batter to end the inning.

“I got a good read off the bat,” Richardson said. “I really didn’t even see the play at all. I kind of threw it and spun, and my face was going toward the outfield. I heard the crowd, so I kind of knew it was an out, but I didn’t really see what was going on over there.”

NEC got a runner on in the seventh, but the game ended when Richardson backhanded another grounder and started a 6-4-3 double play from his knees.

“Him and Corey Pelletier are the two best shortstops I’ve ever had playing for me,” said King, in his 16th year coaching at Thomas. “He almost single-handedly won the first game for us, because if those balls get through and he doesn’t make those plays, it’s a completely different ballgame. You can’t teach the baseball smarts that that kid has.”

Goodall got Thomas going in the second game with a three-run homer in the bottom of the first, but the Pilgrims led 5-3 by the fourth inning, taking the lead on RBI singles by Chris Biskup and Scott Fortune.

NEC, which used small-ball tactics throughout both games, tried to scratch out another run in the top of the fifth. Burgess doubled, and with one out, dashed for third on the pitch. Berrios smoked a sinking liner to center field, but Skowhegan grad Cody Vigue made a diving catch and easily doubled Burgess off second base.

“He’s got to be the best center fielder in the league,” King said. “The kid can run (and) he’s got a flat-out cannon.”

That play seemed to energize the Terriers. Richardson led off the bottom of the fifth with a double to deep left field, and after Hurley grounded out, the Pilgrims intentionally walked Goodall to set up the double play.

Instead, Gray walked to load the bases, and Richardson scored on a wild pitch. With two out, Rob Nutter stepped in and drilled a shot to right-center, just out of the diving reach of NEC center fielder Christopher Smith. Nutter, whose game is more power than speed, legged out a triple and Thomas had a 6-5 lead.

“He ended up getting ahead of me with two strikes, so I decided to have a two-strike approach — a little shorter swing, and just looking for something I could drive to right field,” Nutter said. “He left the pitch over the middle of the plate, and I got it down.”

Thomas tacked on three more runs, and Bejay Perkins, who throws with a three-quarters delivery (between sidearm and submarine) pitched two scoreless innings for the save. The Beavers have two games with UMaine-Farmington on Tuesday and two more with Husson on Thursday before ending the conference schedule with four games against Castleton this weekend in Waterville.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

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