SOUTH CHINA — Erskine Academy baseball coach Lars Jonassen has seen the formula play out time and time again.

When Nate Howard is on the mound, the Eagles are tough. With a strong defense behind him, however, they’re almost unbeatable.

“By and large, when we play defense and Nate (Howard) is pitching, I don’t think someone’s going to score five runs,” he said. “It might be two or three.”

The Eagles surpassed even those parameters in their postseason opener Wednesday afternoon. Howard pitched a shutout, thanks in part to some terrific defensive efforts, and Erskine scratched across enough offense for a 2-0 victory over Mount Desert Island in the Class B North quarterfinals.

“That’s a great first game,” said senior catcher Nick Turcotte, who threw out a pair of runners to help keep the Eagles in front. “They won 11 games, so it’s a good test for us.”

At times, the Trojans appeared to be too tough a test. An Eagles lineup that scored 42 runs in its past five games had few answers for MDI pitcher Matt Perconti, a hard-throwing lefty who struck out nine batters while allowing only four hits, and the MDI lineup kept flirting with a pivotal early lead against Howard, putting runners in scoring position against the Eagles ace in each of the first three innings.

Howard and Erskine escaped trouble each time, and in the fourth, the Eagles jumped ahead. Noah Bonsant lined a one-out single, and after a strikeout, Turcotte rapped a single to center. The ball skipped past center fielder Finn McConomy, allowing Bonsant to take off around the bases and slide in ahead of the throw to put Erskine in front 1-0.

Erskine extended the lead in the sixth. Cody Taylor collected a one-out single to left, and after a stolen base and wild pitch, Bonsant smacked a fly ball to center. McConomy’s throw made it a play at the plate, but Taylor slid in safely to stretch the lead to 2-0.

“Noah had two huge at-bats today,” Jonassen said. “The single and the sacrifice fly, which I took a chance on.”

The rallies gave Erskine the lead, but the defense prevented the Eagles from falling behind. The biggest MDI threat came in the third, when a pair of walks put the first run of the game in scoring position. Jacob Mitchell strayed too far off first on the first pitch to Nick Stanley, however, and Turcotte fired a strike down to Bonsant at first in time to nab Mitchell for the second out. A popup to second ended the inning.

“Noah and I have a lot of chemistry when it comes to that,” Turcotte said. “We can tell as soon as they take their lead if they’re dead or not. … At that point, you just really felt the energy pick up in the dugout.”

MDI coach Andy Pooler said his team could feel it as well.

“A little bit, especially in a tight game like this,” he said. “The catcher, he’s the real deal back there.”

The Trojans saw it for themselves again when they were trying to even the score. Derek Collin hit a one-out single in the fifth, but Turcotte fired a strike to catch him at second during a botched hit-and-run two pitches later.

“I don’t even think about (the situation),” Turcotte said. “I see him go and I throw it.”

In between the standout plays was steady, reliable defense that helped Howard navigate the early challenges. The senior said he knew midway through the game that he didn’t have his best stuff, and focused on pitching to contact instead.

“I wasn’t on (enough) to go after them and strike them out,” said Howard, who struck out six and allowed four hits. “So I just produced some ground balls and pop ups. The defense really stepped up for me.”

Indeed it did. Erskine didn’t make an error in the field, and shortstop Chandler Moore turned in a sparkling afternoon with six assists, two of which came on a pair of tricky plays in the sixth and kept the tying run from getting on.

“I haven’t seen anyone any better,” Jonassen said. “And he’s got a rifle.”

“I just let the practice do the work,” Moore said. “Let my muscle memory take over. … It definitely took all of us. Andrew (Browne) at third, he’s been huge the later part of the season. Dylan (Presby) at second, we have a really good middle infield, Noah at first with his height. And we couldn’t do it without Nick behind the plate, either.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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