GARDINER — Nate Howard couldn’t be hit. The Erskine Academy baseball team couldn’t be stopped.

Howard threw a five-inning no-hitter and the Eagles posted a trio of four-run innings on their way to a 12-0 victory over Gardiner in a key matchup between two teams battling for Class B playoff position.

“They beat us before, and this is a friendly rivalry,” Erskine coach Lars Jonassen said, referring to Gardiner’s 5-4 victory on May 13. “They didn’t like losing at home. … We came here with an edge today, I think the kids would admit that.”

Gardiner coach Russ Beckwith could see it as well.

“We saw a group from Erskine that was ready to play. That was the biggest thing, you could notice it from the first couple of batters,” he said. “They were here to play, and they took advantage of that.”

Having Howard on the mound was a good way to start. Gardiner (11-5) entered the game fifth in the Class B North Heal points, one spot ahead of Erskine (12-3), but the Tigers couldn’t muster an answer against the hard-throwing senior. Howard struck out eight, walked one and needed only 73 pitches to complete his five hitless innings.

“Throwing strikes, that was it,” he said. “Just throwing strikes, getting ahead in the count. … You try to prepare yourself mentally as much as possible, then get to the game and just take care of business.”

“When Nate throws strikes and he pounds the lower part of the plate, he’s almost unhittable,” Jonassen added.

He got all the support he needed before he even stepped on the mound. Erskine put up four runs in the top of the first, benefiting from four Gardiner walks and an error.

“That’s awesome,” Howard said. “That little cushion just gives you such a boost in confidence. I can go after these guys.”

With his standout hurler on the mound, Jonassen knew the Eagles had all but iced the game early.

“The four-run first inning decided the game,” he said. “We knew Nate would make it difficult for them to score. … It really does (put pressure on) with my ace throwing.”

The Eagles nonetheless proceeded to break the game open, this time using their bats to do the damage. Dylan Presby (2 for 3, three RBIs, two runs) belted a triple into the left-center field gap to put Erskine up 6-0 in the fourth, Cody Taylor scored him with a single to make it 7-0, and Nick Turcotte brought Taylor in with a single of his own to bump the score to 8-0.

“We just wanted to start off strong. We’ve been starting off weak these last couple of games,” said Presby, whose team gathered nine of its 11 hits in the final two innings. “We just wanted to get things going. … When the bases were loaded when we last played them, we struck out, popped up. I think this game we showed timely hitting.”

Erskine put the game in mercy territory with a four-hit and four-run fifth, with Taylor, Noah Bonsant and pinch-hitter Spenser Grasse picking up RBI singles.

“Today, our No. 9 hitter gets two singles and scores a run. I have two pinch-hitters that get base hits,” Jonassen said. “It makes it seem like everybody contributes. And I think, in high school sports, that’s huge. … I just think it pulls everybody together.”

Six starters had hits for the Eagles, with Chandler Moore, Taylor and Bonsant joining Presby among those with two apiece.

“We knew with playoffs coming up and seeding, that we had to come out and get ready,” Presby said. “This is preparation for playoffs.”

Beckwith and the Tigers, who have dropped two straight games after winning 10 in a row, will hope it’s a final lesson as the team heads into the postseason with its regular season now complete.

“For us, the biggest takeaway is to get ourselves ready for playoff baseball,” he said. “That’s a playoff team, just like ourselves. Just ratchet it up a few notches and be ready to go next week when things really get started for us.”

Erskine still has another game to go before the postseason begins, a home tilt with Morse. Not that the Eagles appear to need much more work.

“We’re on a roll right now,” Howard said. “We keep playing the way we’re playing, we’re going to be in a really good position.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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