SOUTH CHINA — After a disappointing 2018, the Erskine baseball team is off to the right start to ensure this spring goes differently.

The Eagles got a balanced offensive effort and an efficient outing from starter Jack Allen to come away with a 12-2 six-inning Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B win over Gardiner in their first game at Caswell Field on Wednesday.

Erskine, which scored in five of the six innings, improved to 3-1. The Eagles went 4-12 last year.

“It’s still really early, (but) this team’s extremely close with each other,” said senior catcher Braden Soule, who had two hits while scoring four runs and driving in two. “The confidence early in the year, we’ve been getting a lot of at-bats with good contact, able to move runners, and just put the ball in play and see what we can do from there.”

Erskine’s Sage Hapgood-Belanger makes it back to first base as Gardiner’s Darien Jamison attempts to make the tag Wednesday in South China. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael Seamans

That strategy worked against a Gardiner team that has yet to practice on its field, and showed that rust with mistakes both physical (seven errors) and mental.

“This is our youth showing up, our inexperience, and the fact that it’s been a tough spring weather-wise,” said coach Charlie Lawrence, whose team fell to 0-3. “There are a lot of little things that we need to learn and we need to clean up.”

Erskine took a 2-0 lead in the first on the strength of two Gardiner errors, two hit batsmen and two walks, and built on the advantage in the second. Sage Hapgood-Belanger (two hits, three runs) singled to center, went to second on a wild pickoff try and stole third, then scored on Soule’s single down the third-base line. Joe Clark (two hits, run, two RBIs) followed with a single after Soule stole second, upping the Eagles’ lead to 4-0.

Gardiner cut the deficit in half in the third when Michael Meehan singled in Isaac Gammon and Drew Kelley, but Erskine responded in the fourth. Soule and Clark had back-to-back singles, with Clark’s scoring Soule after he stole second, and Nick Barber reached on an error. Lucas Anderson’s fly to center field scored Clark, and Barber came in after a wild throw to third on his stolen base attempt to make it 7-2.

Erskine added four more runs in the fifth, when Allen, Hapgood-Belanger and Caden Turcotte (two hits, two runs, reached two errors) singled and eventually came around to score and Soule touched home after reaching on an error. Turcotte singled in Hapgood-Belanger to end the game in the sixth.

Soule said the Erskine hitters fed off each other’s success while mounting the lead.

Erskine’s Braden Soule makes it to second base as Gardiner’s Drew Kelley fields the throw Wednesday in South China. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael Seamans

“As a batter, you see the person in front of you get a hit, and then you go up there with confidence,” he said. “You feel like you’ll also be able to get a hit.”

“The offense has been pretty consistent all year,” coach Scott Ballard said. “We’ve been pretty steady, and today we came up with some clutch hits. … We don’t strike out a lot, and putting the ball in play in high school baseball is key. Put a little pressure on their defense.”

Staked to the big lead, Allen could handle the rest. The senior, whom Ballard said only pitched 17 innings last year, completed all six on 71 pitches while striking out four and allowing four hits and two walks.

“Our defense really stepped up, compared to how we’ve been playing for the past couple of games,” he said. “(And) I love being in the dugout and seeing the bats go around.”

“Once we got a lead, we talked about just throwing strikes, pitching to contact and just making them hit the ball,” Ballard said. “His control has been really, really good.”

Kelley had a solid outing for the Tigers in relief of starter Darien Jamison. He escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first with two strikeouts, then allowed two earned runs over the next three innings before leaving after the fourth.

“He did great. He came in and did exactly what we needed,” Lawrence said. “We’ve got some young guys, so it is what it is, I guess. Too many errors, too many overthrows at first base. … The hope is to get outside, get some repetition. Take a couple hundred ground balls every day, take a couple hundred throws over, and that stuff takes care of itself, usually.”


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