READFIELD — The Maranacook baseball team is hitting its stride at the right time.

The Black Bears opened the Class C South playoffs with a 4-1 victory over Winthrop in a Round of 16 game Tuesday, earning their win with strong pitching by lefty Cody Smith, manufacturing runs on the basepaths, and an occasional highlight-reel defensive play.

Maranacook (8-8), the No. 7 seed in the C South playoffs, moves onto the quarterfinals, while the No. 10 Ramblers finish the season with an 8-8 record.

The Black Bears, who missed four weeks between March and April due to multiple COVID-19 cases at the school, feel like they’re peaking at the right time.

“We missed almost that whole month of practice,” Maranacook head coach Eric Brown said. “We’ve sort of been using the whole season as our get ready for today moment. They started executing, and that’s great.”

Smith allowed a run on two hits, not overpowering the Ramblers, but instead pitching to contact and working around the strike zone. He finished with four strikeouts, while walking three in 6 2/3 innings of work.

“I work around the zone, I don’t really throw hard, just (focus) on movement and placement,” Smith said. “It was hot out, and I just wanted to get the game over with, I was like, ‘I got to hit my spots today.’ That’s exactly what I did today.”

“(Smith) did great,” Brown said. “He mixes it up nicely. Anytime you face a lefty it’s tough at this level. When he’s a good lefty, it makes it that much harder. He does a good job of mixing the pitches up. It’s about whether he’s got his breaking ball going, and he had it going at times today. That made a big difference.”

Smith also had some help on defense, especially in the fourth inning. With a runner on third and two outs, Winthrop’s Gavin Perkins hit what appeared to be a bloop destined to find its way into shallow center field. Maranacook second baseman Brayden St. Pierre, chasing the fly, made an all-out dive for the ball, coming down with the catch, ending the inning.

Maranacook pitcher Cody Smith delivers a pitch during a Class C South prelim game Tuesday against Winthrop in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“I saw the ball going over my head, so I turned and started running, because Coach doesn’t like it when I backpedal,” St. Pierre said. “Then I just jumped and closed my eyes, and the ball was in my glove when I stood up. When I caught it, I was just like, ‘There’s no way.’ And then I looked in my glove (saw the ball) and went, ‘Let’s go.'”

“(The catch) was Sports Center Top 10 worthy,” Smith said.

The Black Bears didn’t have significant success at the plate, finishing with three hits. But Maranacook did its offensive damage on the basepaths, stealing four bases, and forcing the Ramblers to commit errors. The Black Bears scored all four of their runs in the first four innings, three of which either came via wild pitch or error.

“We definitely try and steal a lot of bases, put a lot of pressure on the (defense) to make good throws from the catcher,” said St. Pierre, who walked three times, stole a base and scored a run. “We definitely try to steal as much as we can.”

The Ramblers made a late push, scoring a run in the seventh inning when Perkins, who reached on a base hit, made it to second on an error and got to third base on a steal, and scored on a wild pitch by Smith. After issuing a walk to Chase Keezer, Smith was replaced by Tyler Hreben, who needed just one pitch to induce the final out of the game. Aside from Perkins’ single, Keezer had a triple for Winthrop.

Hreben finished with two runs scored for Maranacook, while Nick Florek had an RBI single.

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