BREWER — For a seven-pitch sequence of Tuesday night’s Eastern Class B softball final, Gardiner fireballer Kristal Smith couldn’t hit her stride right. It was just the advantage Hermon needed, and sophomore catcher Hailey Perry made sure.

Perry’s three-run, two-out homer in the fifth was more than enough for the third-seeded Hawks to end top-seeded Gardiner’s dream of a perfect season for the second year in a row.

She went 3-for-3 with a single, double, home run and drove in all four runs while batterymate Karli Theberge scattered four hits to make Hermon back-to-back regional champions with a 4-0 victory at Coffin Field.

“I hadn’t been playing as well as I wanted to the past couple of games and I just really focused this game,” Perry said. “I knew it was important to stay on top of the ball and make hard contact. I just cleared my mind and I did it.”

Hermon (17-2) will defend its state title against Western Maine champion Yarmouth at St. Joseph’s College at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. Gardiner finishes 18-1 on the season, the third in a row to end in the regional final in Brewer.

“Hailey’s a good player. She sat on a fastball and that gave her the hit,” Gardiner coach Don Brochu said. “(Hermon) plays a lot. They’re more experienced, so they can hit.”

Smith struck out 10 and allowed five hits and three walks. A problem with the circle led her to start the fifth with seven straight balls and back-to-back walks to the No. 9 and No. 1 hitters in Hermon’s lineup.

“There’s a divot in the ground where I step, and I kept stepping in it incorrectly, and every time I did that, the ball would shoot up,” Smith said. “It just took me awhile until I found the hole again.”

Smith found it in time to retire Claire Petersen on a sacrifice bunt and Theberge on a pop up to third. With the count 2-2, Perry hit a fastball on a low line over the fence in right-center to break the game open.

“I pitched her outside and she took it that way. Nothing I can do about that. It was a good hit. Hats off to her,” Smith said.

Perry actually may have had a better at-bat in the first when she gave Hermon the lead. She fouled off four pitches in a 2-2 count before doubling to left and driving in Petersen, who had reached on a dropped third strike.

Hermon hitters made Smith (137 pitches) work all night.

“That’s our game plan,” Hermon coach Megan McCrum said. “We like to make pitchers throw. We look for our pitch to start and when we get two strikes we battle and fight until we get our pitch.”

Theberge, a lefthander, had to fight out of a bases-loaded jam in the third, working around a walk, a Mary Toman single and a dropped third strike by ending the inning on Smith’s soft liner to third.

An inning earlier, Theberge helped herself out after giving up a leadoff infield single to Julia Nadeau by snaring a line drive back to the circle by Logan Granholm and throwing to first to double-up Nadeau.

“She does her job, and she always does,” Perry said. “She hits her spots. She doesn’t get pressured.”

“We hit them at people. We had our chances,” Brochu said. “We left some on. We couldn’t get that one hit to break the ice.”

Gardiner stranded six runners through the first five innings. Theberge, who beat the Tigers with a three-hitter last year, retired the final seven in a row to end Gardiner’s bid for its first regional title since it won the Class A state championship in 1980.

“Hey, it’s a good season,” Brochu said. “There’s probably 15 other teams that would like to be sitting here right now.”

“Sharing the Eastern Maine’s with these girls is something that I’ll never forget,” a tearful Smith said.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

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Twitter: @RAWmaterial33