AUGUSTA — One of the fans at Morton Field Thursday evening to watch Jake Dexter pitch was his brother, Sam, a former teammate of Jake’s at Messalonskee High School and now a star at the University of Southern Maine.

“He hasn’t seen me play, really, since we played together,” Jake said. “But definitely a little more motivation.”

Facing The Red Barn for a spot in the Zone 2 American Legion Baseball tournament, Jake Dexter was in a few tough spots, but always worked out of them. He finished with a seven-hit shutout and eight strikeouts as Post 51 won the play-in game, 4-0.

“This is the best he’s thrown all year,” said Ray Bernier, who co-coaches Post 51 with Rusty Mercier and also coaches Dexter at Messalonskee. “Not that he’s thrown bad — it’s just that there’s been times where we get ourselves into jams from our defense, and he wasn’t able to pull us out of it. But today, that was different. This is the first time that he’s gone the full seven the whole season.”

Post 51 (6-10) moves on to the double-elimination portion of the Zone 2 tournament and will face RTD of Madison at 2 p.m., Saturday, at Memorial Field in Skowhegan. Saturday’s other game pits Gardiner (7-9) against Franklin County (9-6). Gardiner advanced when The First had to forfeit Thursday’s play-in game due to a lack of players.

Riley Boivin, who started for The Red Barn, was almost as stingy as Dexter. Boivin went six innings and allowed two runs, one of them earned. He pitched out of trouble in the first three innings as Post 51 left five runners on base during that time and the game remained scoreless.

“He’s pitched great all season,” The Red Barn coach Eric Brown said. “He’s a young kid with a bright future in front of him.”

Impressed with Boivin’s ability to shut the door, Bernier and Mercier got creative in the top of the fourth inning. With one out, Joe Leclair walked and Post 51 worked a hit-and-run with an 0-2 count on Reid Nutter. The play worked beautifully as Nutter lined a hard single up the middle and Leclair raced to third.

On the next pitch, No. 9 batter Trevor Gettig bunted. The play was a safety squeeze, but Leclair got such a good jump that he beat Boivin’s hurried throw to the plate for a 1-0 lead.

“The squeeze call was a good call on Coach Mercier,” Bernier said. “It worked out perfect in the sense that we had the right people there. I think that was a big momentum-changer, because it obviously put that first run in.”

Post 51 added another big run in the fifth when Dan Pooler got to first safely on an error and eventually came around to score on Jonathan Wilkie’s two-out single. But The Red Barn, which represents Augusta Post 205, made its own noise.

The Red Barn tried its own safety squeeze with runners on first and third in the bottom of the fourth, only to have Dexter pounce on the ball and cut down the runner at the plate. In the fifth, Tucker Whitman singled with one out and pinch hitter Caleb Cummings doubled. With runners now on second and third and one out, Dexter reached back for a strikeout.

That brought up Tayler Carrier, who had doubled in the first inning only to be stranded after stealing third. This time Carrier drove a fly ball to right-center field. The ball kept carrying until right fielder Reid Nutter caught it and then bounced off the fence.

“It’s a game of inches, baseball,” Brown said. “That would have put us on top at that point. That was the way the game went all day. We just couldn’t quite get that great clutch hit.”

Post 51’s Zach Mathieu hit one to almost the same spot in the seventh, but it went a little farther for a two-run homer. The Red Barn put runners on first and second with nobody out in the bottom of the seventh, but Tyler Bailey’s looper died on the way to the outfield and was turned into a lineout double play.

Post 51 certainly didn’t have an impressive record during the regular season, but the group of players from Messalonskee, Lawrence and Waterville has now won two in a row.

“We didn’t really mesh, and we couldn’t get our bats going,” Dexter said. “We were kind of in a funk. We’re playing pretty solid defense, and getting some timely hits. We’re waking up a little bit.”

•••

The game between Gardiner and The First was decided about two hours before game time. Gardiner coach Dan Burdin said he spoke with Bob Wolff, coach of The First, on Thursday afternoon, and Wolff told him he did not have enough players to field a team.

“I said to Bob Wolff, ‘I’d rather play than just forfeit and move on,'” Burdin said.

Gardiner was going to pitch ace and Kennebec Journal Player of the Year Kyle Fletcher on Thursday, but can now save him for the weekend.

“Obviously, saving our pitchers helps us,” Burdin said. “But as a baseball guy, it’s sad.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo


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