Tyesn Paz didn’t expect to pitch when Messalonskee of Oakland traveled to Bordick Park on Wednesday for its Class A North baseball quarterfinal against Hampden Academy.
So when the sophomore righthander and ace of the Eagles’ pitching staff got the call after his team fell behind 2-0 in the first inning, Paz hadn’t already used up tons of energy anticipating a pressure-filled postseason start.
Instead he used it to shut Hampden down, working six innings of three-hit, scoreless relief as seventh-ranked Messalonskee rallied to upend the second-seeded Broncos 3-2 on Dylan Cunningham’s go-ahead sacrifice in the top of the seventh inning.
“That was the hardest I’ve ever thrown, I think,” said Paz. “I had a good game today and it was because of the fastball. I couldn’t really get a curveball for a strike.”
The win sends coach Ray Bernier’s club — which has not played on its home field this spring due to saturated conditions — to Saturday’s semifinal against the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal at Auburn between No. 3 Edward Little (11-5) and No. 6 Mt. Ararat of Topsham (9-7).
Hampden, which suffered its second one-run quarterfinal loss in as many years, finishes 13-4.
Paz relieved starter Messalonskee Evan DeMott to open the second inning and threw just 70 pitches — 49 for strikes — to finish the contest
He yielded a single to the first batter he faced but allowed just three more baserunners the rest of the way, and an errorless defense keyed by Cunningham at shortstop prevented Hampden from capitalizing on its opportunities after the opening inning.
“He came out and threw the game of his life,” said Cunningham of Paz, who struck out two batters and walked no one. “He was bringing it. I’ve never seen him throw so hard.”
Hampden mustered five baserunners in the bottom of the first inning but managed just two runs on Evan Thomas’ two-out double to left, which plated Gavin Partridge and Kent Oliver.
The Broncos might have taken a bigger lead earlier in the inning but leadoff batter Sam Economy, who started the rally with a single to left, was thrown out on a perfect 8-6-5 relay play while trying to advance to third base on Partridge’s one-out single to center.
“They jumped on us with that two-out hit, but we rose to the occasion and played good defense, and then we backed it up with the bats,” Cunningham said.
Hampden righthander Wyatt Harriman kept Messalonskee’s offense guessing for most of the afternoon with an assortment of pitches, but the Eagles scratched out a pair of unearned runs to tie the game.
Freshman Mitchell Grant led off the top of the third with a single to left and reached second when the ball was bobbled in the outfield. A wild pitch advanced Grant to third base, and he scored on Cunningham’s two-out, opposite-field single to right.
“With two out I was just trying to put the bat on the ball and I got a nice line drive on it and hit it the other way,” Cunningham said.
Messalonskee tied the game in the sixth as Cunningham reached on an error, was sacrificed to second by Jake Perry and scored on back-to-back singles by Carter Lambert — one of just two seniors on the roster — and Ben Hellen.
The Eagles used consecutive hits by Grant, Andrew Mayo and Joe Ardito — the 7-8-9 hitters in Messalonskee’s batting order — to load the bases with no one out in the top of the seventh before Cunningham flied to fairly shallow right field to drive home Grant with what proved to be the winning run.
“We’re a good last-inning team,” Paz said. “As long as we hit the ball early on we’re going to be a really hard team to beat.”