NEWPORT — Nokomis Regional High School catcher Zach Hartsgrove isn’t going to lie. Crouched behind the plate in the top of the seventh inning, with his team’s lead shrinking, Hartsgrove felt a few butterflies.

“A little nervous, but we all trust each other. We just had to get that final out,” Hartsgrove said.

With the bases full of Waterville runners and the tying run at third, Nokomis relief pitcher Cody Marquis got Jack Thompson to ground out to first base, ending the Purple Panthers rally and giving the Warriors a 5-4 Class B North preliminary round win. No. 8 Nokomis, now 11-6, will play at top seed Ellsworth (15-1) on Thursday at 2 p.m., in a rematch of last season’s semifinal game won by the Eagles. No. 9 Waterville ends the season 10-7.

Waterville senior Chase Wheeler crosses home plate to score a run during a Class B North prelim game against Nokomis on Tuesday in Newport. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Waterville’s seventh inning rally followed a Nokomis rally in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs and the bases loaded, Brock Graves scored on a passed ball to give Nokomis a 2-1 lead. It was a close play, and Waterville pitcher Cody Pellerin thought he had applied the tag on Graves to end the inning. Pellerin then walked Garrett Burke to load the bases again before Andy Hopkins hit a two-run single to center field, pushing Nokomis’ lead to 4-1. Burke scored on a throwing error to give the Warriors a 5-1 cushion going to the seventh.

“You get captured in the moment sometimes. (Pellerin) settled down and left one pitch over the plate. I think if we look back at the last couple of times we’ve seen (Hopkins), Cody’s done real well against that particular hitter. I think he just left a pitch up and he hit it for a single,” Waterville coach Russell Beckwith said.

Until the seventh, Nokomis starting pitcher Josh Perry pitched well, working his way out of a couple jams, including a bases loaded, nobody out situation in the fourth to keep it a 1-1 game. Perry found trouble again in the seventh. Kai Rabideau reached on an error to lead off the inning, and Kody Vallee and Pellerin each walked to load the bases. Perry got a strikeout for out one, before back-to-back RBI singles from Dan Gaunce and Chase Wheeler cut Nokomis’ lead to 5-3. Perry got another strikeout for the second out, but also hit the maximum pitch count of 110 and had to leave the game.

“Josh, he’s a great pitcher. When he’s focused, he’s tough to hit off of. He was ready to go today. Everybody has confidence in him and he has confidence in himself,” Hartsgrove said. “They started putting the ball in play, which is expected when Josh is getting a little tired and up there in the pitch count.”

Marquis came on and walked pinch hitter Noah Tilton, cutting the lead to one run, but Waterville could not push across the tying run. The Panthers stranded 11 runners on base.

“I haven’t gotten time to process it yet, but when I think back, there will be quite a few opportunities that we had there,” Beckwith said. “When it comes down to it, they capitalized on that one play at the plate and added a couple runs, and we weren’t able to scratch enough back in that (seventh) inning.”

Nokomis third baseman Andy Hopkins plays a groundball during a Class B North prelim game against Waterville on Tuesday in Newport. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Graves scored a pair of runs for Nokomis. Gaunce and Wheeler each had three hits for Waterville. The win gave Nokomis two victories in three games over the Panthers this season. Two of the three games were decided by one run.

“All three games we played with them this year, there was a situation for us to win in the seventh inning. We got one of them. They got the other two,” Beckwith said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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