MONMOUTH — The Monmouth Mustangs started the 2015 baseball season with no seniors on the roster and just four players who had any varsity experience. But they’ve rendered any notions of this being a rebuilding year moot with an impressive start and some poised play in tight games.

Monmouth won its fifth straight on Friday and improved to 6-1 with a 1-0 win over Oak Hill. Pitcher Chandler Harris out-dueled Oak Hill’s Matt Arnold and speedy catcher Gage Cote scored the game’s only run by scoring from second on a ground ball to first base.

Harris allowed just three hits and got stronger as the game went along, retiring the last seven batters of the game. He struck out two, walked two and hit a batter.

“I really just needed to throw strikes and let the guys behind me make plays. That’s all it comes down to, really,” Harris said. “I changed up my mechanics a bit and that helped me out a lot (later in the game).”

“He does a good job missing bats. He misses the big part of the bat,” Monmouth coach Eric Palleschi said. “Gage does a great job (calling the game). It’s nice to have that leadership back there.”

Despite Harris’ efficient performance, the Raiders (3-4) had plenty of chances to drive in runs early and ended up stranding nine baserunners.

They put the leadoff man on in each of the first four innings. The most frustrating squander came in the second when they loaded the bases with one out. Harris wiggled out of the jam with his only two strikeouts, a called third to get Connor Nilsson and a swinging third to get Adam Merrill.

“We had a lot of runners on. It’s just been that kind of season,” Oak Hill coach Matthew Bray said. “We’re a young team that makes mistakes. Today it wasn’t in the field. We made the mistakes at the plate. We were swinging at bad pitches early in the count, popping things up, not waiting and being selective.”

Arnold stranded a pair of Mustangs in the first, then set them down in order in the second. In the third, Avery Amero led off with a bunt single, then was erased at second on Cote’s grounder to second.

Cote stole second, then took off for third as Arnold delivered his next pitch to Harris, who hit the ball to the right side for what appeared to be a routine out. The Raiders’ first baseman momentarily took his eye off the ball and bobbled it, however, and Cote, who never broke stride around third, beat the throw home to make it 1-0.

“(The first baseman) looked to see where Gage was headed and that cost him a little bit,” Palleschi said. “That speed is nice to have. You can’t coach speed. Not only that, but his instincts. He understands the game very well.”

Arnold (six innings, six hits, eight strikeouts, two walks) battled out of several tight spots over the next three innings to keep the game close. His defense helped him out with a couple of double plays on popped up bunt attempts and he helped himself out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth by snaring Jariah Caissie’s line drive back to the mound.

Not to be outdone, Harris hustled to make a nice grab of his own on Brent Mulherin’s foul pop up about one-third of the way up the third base line. That started his string of seven consecutive outs to end the game.

“I’ve got to make sure I hustle for it either way, even if it’s me that doesn’t catch it,” he said.

Monmouth graduated 10 players after it finished as the top seed in Western C last year and was upset by eventual regional champion Sacopee Valley in the semifinals. The Mustangs brought back just two starters, shortstop Hunter Richardson and Caissie at third (Cote was a starter at Lewiston before he transferred this year). But the next group up, including sophomores Avery Amero, Mat Foulke and Travis Hartford and freshmen Nick Dovinsky and Avery Pomerleau, had Palleschi’s team back on top of the Western C Heal points standings as of Friday night.

The Mustangs are now 4-0 in one-run games this season.

“We’ve got some young guys filling in some key spots. Kids are playing well. It’s a lot of fun right now,” Palleschi said.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33


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