By Mike Zhe
May 02, 2014 2:00 AM
SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — No prizes are handed out after the third game of the season, but the Marshwood High School baseball team found a lot to like in Thursday’s 4-3, walk-off win against Cheverus.
Resilience. A late rally. The big celebration at home plate when it was over was the cherry on top.
Speedy Ryan O’Neil scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh to lift the Hawks (3-0), who got a bend-but-don’t-break outing from top arm Zack Quintal and found a way to push across runs at the end.
“That was very intense,” said Marshwood coach Eric Fernandes. “Cheverus is a team that’s going to be there right at the end. They hit the ball hard; they should have had more runs.”
The Hawks needed a two-run single from catcher Luke Stankovich in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game. In the bottom of the seventh, O’Neil — the sophomore No. 9 hitter, who collected two hits and an RBI — beat out a slow roller to third to lead things off, ending the day for Stags starter Peter Dutton, who allowed nine hits but really only had one bad inning.
The next play was the key. O’Neil moved to third when Quintal’s sacrifice bunt off reliever Mitchell Powers was thrown wildly past first. That brought up No. 2 hitter Zach Hodges with nobody out.
Hodges never had to swing. A pitch in the dirt got past the catcher and traveled to the backstop, allowing O’Neil to score easily.
“Game over,” said Quintal, asked what he was thinking from second base. “With his speed, if he gets on base, he’ll score.”
Shortstop Noah McDaniel had three hits for Marshwood, which has permitted just seven runs in its first three games. First baseman Chris Tinsman had three for Cheverus.
It was a tough loss to stomach for the Stags (2-1), annually an upper-echelon team in Western Maine Class A who had produced double-digit runs in each of their first two games.
“That was a playoff-type game,” said Cheverus coach Mac McKew. “That’s one of our areas that we have to work on. …; There’s no room for errors when two good teams are playing.”
McKew also knew it probably shouldn’t have come down to the final inning for his team.
The Stags loaded the bases with nobody out in both the third and fifth innings, but produced just three runs from those situations, something that seemed almost palatable to the Hawks.
“The guys played defense for me, got some big outs,” said Quintal, who made a verbal commitment last fall to play at the University of Maine.
“We had chances to have some bigger innings and we didn’t,” said McKew. “Quintal’s the best pitcher we’ve faced to this point and we still hit some balls hard.”
The Hawks fell behind 3-1 in the top of the fifth in one of those bases-loaded situations. Felix del Vecchio broke for home and got caught in a rundown, but an errant throw by Stankovich, the catcher, let him score.
In the bottom of the sixth, McDaniel singled and Jake Lebel hit an opposite-field double to right-center. The left-handed Stankovich, down 0-2 in the count, pulled a grounder down the first-base line that scored both runners, making it a brand-new game.
“How many kids have a poor mental defensive lapse and then come through with a hit?” said Fernandes. “Last year, I don’t think that would have happened.”
The Hawks broke through to reach the regional championship game last year, and the jury’s still out on this youngish group, which did not start a single senior on Thursday.
They weren’t facing Cheverus’ No. 1 — Dutton is trying to establish himself as the No. 3 starter, said McKew — and their defense wasn’t airtight, but the Hawks found some things to build on going forward on the first day of May.
“Good teams overcome adversity,” said Quintal. “I was never really worried because I knew we were going to push through.”