The Monmouth Mustangs are 9-0 and pursuing their first Class C state championship. But this year’s edition has already done something previous Mustangs never did.

Monday’s 4-3 win at Saint Dominic was the first in Monmouth’s history against the soon-to-be-departing Mountain Valley Conference rivals, a goal the Mustangs have had for some time.

“The kids have talked about (beating St. Dom’s) this year,” Monmouth coach Eric Palleschi said. “Two years ago, we were in a similar situation and we lost to them. It was our only loss during the regular season and this team kind of recognized that and said ‘Not us. Not this year.'”

Chandler Harris and Nick Sanborn combined to scatter seven hits on the mound.

Harris had to battle Mother Nature to allow just six hits and strike out four to pick up the victory in 6 1/3 innings. Primarily a knuckleballer, high winds forced him to alter his repertoire. He kept the Saints off-balance with his fastball and curve ball.

The victory came in the midst of five games in a six day stretch that also included wins over Oak Hill (11-0), Lisbon (6-5), Carrabec (14-0) and Mt. Abram (14-1). Harris, who is 2-0, and Sanborn, who is 4-0, lead a deep pitching staff that also includes Hunter Richardson (2-0) and Gage Cote (1-0) and gives Palleschi a lot of options.

“We can manage pitch counts and keep arms fresh,” he said. “We’ve been able to mix and match and piece things together kind of like we did a couple of years ago. It’s nice to have the pitching we’ve got.”

The Mustangs host 1-6 Boothbay on Friday before Monday’s matchup of unbeaten teams with Madison in Madison.

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When it comes to health, no team has had worse luck this spring than Hall-Dale. Yet the Bulldogs are 6-3, getting healthier and pointing to a strong finish.

With the return of freshman Alec Byron to the lineup for Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Madison, coach Bob Sinclair finally had the full squad he was expecting to have before the season.

“For the first time, we had the nine players I had penciled in to begin the season,” Sinclair said. “Since that last week of preseason, we lost two starters to injuries and now they’re just starting to come back. This is the first time defensively that we’ve been where I wanted to be at the start of the season. So it’s encouraging to be 6-3 and have all of those injuries to overcome.”

Byron, a shortstop, was hit in the face by a pitch in preseason and suffered a broken bone in his face less than a week before the start of the regular season. Senior third baseman Josh Cowing has missed time after dislocating a finger fielding a ball and was recently medically cleared to swing the bat. Freshman Austin Stebbins returned recently to bolster the middle of the lineup after fracturing a facial bone in the field and played well enough while filling in for injured teammates to secure more playing time even with everyone back.

“He’s been a clutch player,” Sinclair said. “I thought originally when we got everybody back that he’d be out of the lineup, but he’s played so well that I can’t take him out of the lineup now.”

Despite a good first half of the season, Sinclair was beginning to wonder whether the Bulldogs were snakebit.

“Last week I’m in the (pregame) umpire/coaches meeting and I’ve got to call timeout during it because one of my players broke his nose during pregame,” Sinclair said. “I’ve been scrambling. It’s just been that type of a season. Most of my team is wearing facemasks right now, unfortunately.”

The walking wounded returned in time for key home games against Mountain Valley and Dirigo that contain some much-needed Heal points. Despite their absence, the Bulldogs are 3-1 in one-run games this season, which has Sinclair excited about his team’s prospects in the second half.

“I’ve been very proud of the way these guys are playing. We’re always in the ballgame. Even when we get down early, we always find a way to come back,” Sinclair said. “I’m confident, knowing that we have our team back and healthy, that we’re going to make a good run in the second half of the season.”

• • •

Having scored 15 runs through their first eight games, the Cony Rams aren’t particular about how their runners find home plate. So even though what Kolbe Merfeld did in Monday’s 2-0 win over Brunswick may be considered risky by some, coach Don Plourde welcomed his aggressiveness and savvy.

Merfeld was on second base when a passed ball allowed him to take third in the sixth inning. Taylor Heath scored the Rams’ first run from third on the play, and it appeared that would be it for the moment when Brunswick’s pitcher took the ball, turned his back and started walking back toward the rubber.

An alert Merfeld noticed this, and the fact that the catcher hadn’t returned to the plate, so he broke for home and ended up scoring a big insurance run.

“At this point, when you’re averaging 1.7 runs per game or whatever per game, you take them however you can get them,” Plourde said.

The play may have been just the spark the Rams needed as they followed up that win with a thrilling 9-7 triumph over Lawrence on Wednesday. Prior to that game, they had not scored more than four runs in any game.

It would be a good time for the Rams to start scoring more consistently. They are 4-5 and have key games with Hampden and Lewiston on Friday and Monday, respectively.

“We played four tough games in a row (against Mt. Blue, Oxford Hills, Brewer and Brunswick),” Plourde said before the Lawrence win. “Our pitching was good. If we can put some runs together, we’ll be in pretty good shape.”

• • •

Monday’s schedule is chock full of games that could be critical in determining how the Heals play out. In addition to the Monmouth/Madison battle of unbeatens, Maranacook hosts Winslow and Nokomis hosts Erskine in two key Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B contests. KVAC Class A has a couple of important games on the docket, too, when Messalonskee and Lawrence hook up in Fairfield and Cony travels to Lewiston.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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