STANDISH — Great teams can win ballgames in different ways. Championship teams can adjust on the fly from one inning to the next.

After being an offensive juggernaut all season, averaging better than 13 runs per game during the regular season, the Hall-Dale baseball team turned to small ball in posting a 2-1 win over Houlton in Saturday’s Class C state championship game for the program’s first title in 17 years.

“Typically, with this team and how powerful they are offensively, we usually just let the bats take care of themselves and let them rally to get the runs,” Hall-Dale head coach Bob Sinclair said. “(Saturday) had a little bit different makeup.

“We can go to that style of baseball, but that really hasn’t been the style that’s got us to where we are today. It was nice to see the ballplayers be able to adjust to that and play for a run — and in the end get the run that made the difference.”

In 16 regular season games, the Bulldogs’ lineup was relentless in hammering its way to 209 runs scored, scoring 10 or more runs on 10 different occasions.

Even though they couldn’t sustain that blistering production rate in the postseason, they didn’t exactly let up. Hall-Dale scored 15 runs in three games in the regional tournament, all against top-nine teams in the bracket.

Turns out, the old adage of pitching and defense serving as the two-sided cornerstone of winning baseball is as true now as it ever was. Senior Cole Lockhart, the No. 2 in Hall-Dale’s one-two pitching punch, limited Houlton to just three hits, walking one with seven strikeouts in the championship game.

“Dean (Jackman) is that guy that just fires it by people,” Lockhart said of his teammate on the Bulldogs’ pitching staff. “Not that Dean doesn’t, but I trust my defense. I know they’re going to make the plays. I know they’re going to be coming up big for me.”

Lockhart did more than provide lip service to his defense. He put his faith in the guys behind him against the Shiretowners and it paid off — using his curveball to get 11 of 21 outs on the infield, including nine via the groundball. Junior shortstop Alec Byron had five assists and a putout behind his pitcher, while catcher Akira Warren threw out a would-be base stealer in the first and made a nice catch against the backstop on a pop foul to end a Houlton threat in the second.

“Maybe during the regular season a little bit because we were scoring double-digit runs almost every game,” Byron said of whether the Hall-Dale defense was overlooked. “But in this playoff run we’ve had, the defense has been pretty stellar as a unit — the infield, the outfield, Akira behind the plate’s been great. We’ve been very good as a team.”

And all that defensive work paid off when the Bulldogs found a way to scratch out the only two runs they would need. Lockhart followed a Warren double in the second inning with an RBI groundout to the right side, and two infield hits, a hit batter and a sacrifice bunt led to the go-ahead and eventual winning run in the third.

Byron legged out a ground ball to third with two outs, allowing Logan Dupont to race home.

“We didn’t hit the ball like we normally do, but we did the little things the right way,” Byron said. “We beat out a couple of infield hits, we stole a couple of bases, Josh (Nadeau) laid down a great bunt and we advanced runners. Our pitching and defense was stellar. It was a good team effort.”

It was exactly the type of team effort Sinclair envisioned after the 2017 ended with an upset in the regional quarterfinals. Nobody graduated from that group, and Mountain Valley Conference competition this spring continued to treat Hall-Dale with respect by throwing staff aces at the Bulldogs nearly every time out.

“In the end, I think that made us a better team and prepared us for (the state championship),” Sinclair said. “On paper early on, teams didn’t look by us. They knew we had a quality ballclub, and we saw a lot of No. 1 pitching throughout the season. Credit the kids, even though we saw some terrific pitching, we only had one loss on the season.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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