The Richmond baseball team’s season screeched to a halt last season, and Zach Small was right in the middle of it, the losing pitcher as Searsport ousted the Bobcats in the Class D South final on its way to a state title.

This year, Richmond’s postseason was again on the line. Small was again on the mound. This time, however, there was a different outcome.

Small was too good for there not to be.

The senior, Richmond’s best arm and biggest bat all season long, was never better than in the Class D state final, throwing a no-hitter to lead the Bobcats past Fort Fairfield for their first state crown since 2010.

“When Zach gets the ball, he’s got a mindset that he’s going to finish the job no matter what,” coach Ryan Gardner said. “And (that) day, he was just on. That’s probably one of the better games I’ve ever seen him pitch.”

Small was on all season — both on the mound and at the plate. He went 7-1, allowed two earned runs all season in 44 innings (a 0.32 ERA) and struck out 54 while walking only six batters, and also batted .587 with one home run and 20 RBIs. For his performance, Small is the Kennebec Journal baseball player of the year.

Hall-Dale’s Akira Warren, Maranacook’s Dan Garand, Erskine’s Boomer Jorgensen and Gardiner’s Logan Porter were also considered.

“You can’t ask for a better way to end your season, especially with the group of guys we had,” Small said. “It was definitely an amazing experience.”

In addition to his talent, Small also brought a competitive demeanor that made him the team’s on-field leader. It was common to see him shout instruction to a catcher on blocking a pitch from his shortstop position or scold a teammate for a mental mistake, but Small was also the first to congratulate one for making a difficult play in the field and the loudest when another teammate came through with a big hit.

And when he was in that big spot, Small always had a knack for coming through.

“I know, as a senior, these guys are relying on me and my fellow senior teammates to lead this team,” he said, “and I think that comes with an expectation from our coaches (of) what they want us to do and what they think we’re capable of doing.”

It quickly became clear just what Richmond was capable of. After scratching out a 2-1 victory over Rangeley in the opener, the Bobcats rolled, losing only once to St. Dominic and burying the rest of their opponents, frequently in five-inning mercy-rule blowouts.

“I think from that (Rangeley) game, we were just locked in,” Small said. “That game changed our mentality and made us realize, if we wanted to do anything, we had to take it seriously.”

Once the team got to the playoffs, Small ensured there would be no early exits. He outdueled Greenville ace Evan Bjork, one of the best pitchers in the class, and had Richmond’s only two hits while scoring one run and driving in the other in a 2-1 South semifinal victory that set up a rematch with Searsport in the D South final.

The nemesis was up next, and Small said there was an uptick in the team’s intensity going in.

“I think that’s what really drove us this year, that one loss (the year before),” he said. “We talked about it all the time, we wanted Searsport. We didn’t care who we were going to face before, but we wanted Searsport.”

For Small in particular, it was personal.

“I don’t think I stopped thinking about that (loss) until this year,” he said. “And I knew as soon as we got in that Searsport game, I wasn’t able to pitch it, but I knew I was going to make some sort of an impact. I was going to do it at bat or in the field.”

He did. Small had two hits, including an RBI triple in a five-run first inning that set the stage for a 14-6 victory.

“When we put them down (seven) runs (at 9-2), that was one of the best feelings I’ve had,” he said.

There was one game left, and Small got the ball for the state final against Fort Fairfield.

“It was the state game, my senior year. I was going to come out and I was going to let the ball fly,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about trying to last. I was going to power through and give it 110 percent every pitch, every at bat.”

The Tigers never had a chance. Small was dominant, mowing down one batter after another as the Bobcats gave him all the run support he could need. He had seven strikeouts, the last of which put the finishing touches on his masterpiece and a Richmond championship.

“I didn’t expect to throw a no-hitter, by any means,” he said. “But it’s a great feeling to do that. Great way to end it, right there.”

It may have been the end of a career as well. Small, who was also the KJ boys basketball player of the year, is going to the University of Maine Farmington to play basketball. There likely won’t be time for baseball — but he’s not writing it off just yet.

“I think that’s still up in the air,” Small said. “If it comes to it and I can handle it academically, I may give baseball a shot.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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