The Richmond baseball team reached the Class D South final last year. The core was coming back intact. The Bobcats knew they were going to be good.

They also knew that being good wasn’t going to be enough.

“No, we had to do it. That was the goal,” said coach Ryan Gardner said, referring to winning a state championship. “As a coach … if the kids all play to their potential and you come up short, you have to tell them ‘You tried your best, and it just didn’t work.’ But in the back of your mind, you’re going ‘We really should do this. We have the potential to do this.’

“And they just followed through.”

Did they ever. The Bobcats earned their first Class D state title since 2010, and they left no doubt getting there. Zach Small threw a no-hitter. Richmond’s bats went off in what ended up an 11-0 victory over Fort Fairfield. It all followed a D South final in which the Bobcats roughed up the three-time defending state champions from Searsport, bashing their way to a 14-6 victory.

When the games were supposed to get tougher, Richmond just got better. Gardner said the players were determined all season for that to be the case.

“They thought they were better than Searsport in 2017, and not to reach the point that we reached this year, that frustrated them,” he said. “They said ‘We’re better than this, and we need to prove it to people.’ And they just took on that mindset, ‘There’s no way that anybody’s going to beat us. We want this. Somebody’s going to have to take this from us.’ And no one did.”

The key step on the way to the team’s biggest win, however, was its only loss. Richmond won its first 13 games before falling to St. Doms 3-2, and Gardner said he saw the determination from his players reach a new level afterward.

“We didn’t play well enough to win, and I think those kids all went ‘We don’t want to feel like this again. This sucks. We don’t want to lose,'” he said. “For some reason that day, it didn’t work for us. But they went back and said ‘That’s not going to happen again.'”

The intensity didn’t drop the rest of the way. Richmond’s senior starters — Small, Matt Rines, Trystin Shea and Nate Kendrick — didn’t let it.

“They just worked and worked and worked. We hit and hit and hit, we fielded a ton of ground balls, we took a ton of fly balls,” Gardner said. “And Zach just reminded them of that all the time. ‘We’re not doing that again. This is ours. We’re going to take it.'”

When Richmond dashed its Searsport demons in the regional final, Gardner had no doubt that his team was going to finish the job. The energy was there, the bats were hot and the Bobcats had Small, their ace and emotional leader, on the mound with the ball.

“I said to (assistant coach Mike Ladner), ‘You know, everything we’ve tried for the last three weeks has worked,'” Gardner said. “To hand the ball to Zach, who’s the ultimate competitor, you’re just going ‘This is set up perfectly for us.'”

The Tigers didn’t have a chance. Richmond was up 3-0 after the first inning, 7-0 after the second. The lineup was raking, with Kendrick hitting a triple and No. 9 hitter Dakotah Gilpatric — who had three hits in the regional final — and Small collecting doubles. The Bobcats swiped 10 bases in 11 attempts, putting Fort Fairfield on the defensive from the first few pitches.

“The kids came out with the same formula we did against Searsport. Just jump on (them). We hit the ball hard,” Gardner said. “We just ran the bases relentlessly. … We frustrated their pitcher from the get-go.”

Meanwhile, Fort Fairfield had no answer for Small, whiffing seven times while putting only two on base.

“He was just on. That’s probably one of the better games I’ve ever seen him pitch,” Gardner said. “They were jumping out of the way, and once he saw them jumping out of the way on the curveball he kept throwing it. The kids that couldn’t hit a fastball, he blew them away.”

It all added up to a celebration on the Mansfield Stadium diamond — one the Bobcats had in mind before the season even began.

“They had a mission, they were going to accomplish it,” Gardner said. “As coaches, you just stand back and let them go, because they were ready. Really, I don’t have to do a lot, because these guys know what they want.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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