OAKLAND — After the first inning, it looked like the winner of the Class A North preliminary round baseball game between Cony and Messalonskee high schools was going to need to burn through all its pitching to advance.

Both teams hit the ball hard in the first inning, and each team capitalized on the other’s mistakes.

Instead, the game morphed into a pitchers’ duel, with most of the offense coming in that first inning. Messalonskee junior Dustin Brown overcame his shaky start to throw six strong innings, helping the Eagles take a 5-2 win.

No. 7 Messalonskee, now 10-7, will play at No. 2 Edward Little (15-1) in Auburn in a quarterfinal game Wednesday. No. 10 Cony ends the season at 6-11.

“I was very pleased with the way we bounced back,” Messalonskee coach Ray Bernier said. “It was a tough playoff atmosphere, and (Cony) is one of the teams that plays with the most energy in the league.”

Brown and the Eagles spotted Cony two runs in the top of the first. With one out, Kolbe Merfeld singled. After a Brown strikeout, Taylor Heath singled and an error advanced the runners to third and second base. Zach Charest’s single scored both runs and gave the Rams a 2-0 lead, a run more than Cony scored in two regular-season games combined against Messalonskee.

“Well, they jumped on me early a little bit. I wasn’t locating well, throwing high in the zone, letting them hit the ball,” Brown said.

The Eagles answered with four runs in the bottom of the first. Tyler Lewis led off with a single, Jared Cunningham walked and Colby Dexter was hit by a pitch to load the bases with nobody out. Justin Rodrigue’s pickoff throw to second base went into the outfield, allowing Lewis to score and advancing the runners. Cunningham tied the game on Jonathan Wilkie’s groundout to first base, and Dexter scored the go-ahead run when Sam Bell got himself caught in a rundown between first and second.

Josh Joy walked and later scored on a Josh Casey single, giving Messalonskee a 4-2 lead. Rodrigue walked three hitters in the first inning.

“I don’t think (Rodrigue) was as wild as he wasn’t getting the benefit of the close pitches that I thought they were getting. I’m not going to say he was wild. That’s where he throws,” Cony coach Don Plourde said. “That said, we had a big half inning and they responded. That’s baseball.”

The Eagles added an insurance run in the bottom of the fourth when Lewis scored on a wild pitch. After struggling in the first, Brown settled down, spotting his fastball low and away from hitters while mixing in a good curve.

“I just found it and kept rolling with it, really,” Brown said.

Brown worked out of a jam in the third. Connor Perry led off with a single and Merfeld was hit by a pitch. After Rodrigue’s sacrifice bunt moved the runners over, Bernier intentionally walked Heath to load the bases with one out. Brown struck out Charest, and Anthony Brunelle hit a soft line drive right to second baseman Kyle LaFreniere to end the inning.

“People are always saying, just settle down in situations like that. That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t let it get in my head. I knew I had good defense behind me,” Brown said.

Cony had just one baserunner over the final four innings, a single from Rodrigue with two outs in the fifth. The Rams hit a few line drives right at Messalonskee defenders, and Bernier went to right-handed sidearmer James Lathrop in the seventh for the save.

“It seems like that’s the way it’s been going a lot this year,” Plourde said of the hard outs.

Messalonskee and Edward Little played once in the regular season, with the Red Eddies taking a 1-0 win on May 11.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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</URL>Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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