The Orono Red Riots join in a celebratory pig pile after wrapping up a 5-0 victory over Monmouth Academy in the Class C baseball state championship game at Saint Joseph's College in Standish. (Pete Warner  BDN)

The Orono High School baseball program could make a legitimate claim that COVID-19 not only robbed it of the 2020 season, but a real chance to win a state championship that year.

The Red Riots had lost in the 2019 Class C state final, but returned a strong nucleus of sophomores from that squad with still two seasons left in their interscholastic careers.

What coach Don Joseph’s club may have missed out on last spring, it finally achieved in style Saturday with a 5-0 victory over Monmouth Academy in the state championship game at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.

“We’ve been just beyond motivated,” Orono senior shortstop Cam Shorette said. “It’s been that way since day one.”

The Red Riots (17-3) put on a baserunning clinic in manufacturing runs against the Mustangs. The stolen base was their weapon of choice as they went 7-for-8 on steal attempts and the tactic played a role in each of their runs.

“The beauty of this team is we have five or six guys who, if you teach the technique of stealing to, we’re going to put pressure on people,” Joseph said. “It’s hard to throw out speedsters in this league. You’ve got to have a fast pitch, a quick transfer and an accurate throw. We were going to run until they threw us out.”

That aggressive baserunning, combined with the shutout pitching of seniors Zack Dill and Cam Shorette, propelled the Red Riots to their second Class C state championship in four seasons.

“There’s no words to describe this,” senior catcher Jason DeSisto said. “We kind of got robbed out of a year, so we’ve been saying since junior year that we wanted to come back and win a state title, and we made it happen. There’s no better feeling.”

Dill never Monmouth Academy get untracked offensively, scattering four hits during an ultra-efficient 65-pitch, six-inning performance. The tall right-hander had the Mustangs swinging aggressively, but of the eight balls they put into play on first pitches, seven went for outs.

“It was surreal,” Dill said. “You dream as a kid coming up of pitching in a state game. Our ace [Shorette], his arm has had an issue for most of the season, so I knew it was my time to step up and I came out here and threw strikes and let my defense work.”

Shorette did get a chance to close out the state final, working a scoreless seventh with three strikeouts and a hit batter.

Monmouth, which had just one senior and 13 freshmen and sophomores on its 19-player roster, ends its season at 16-4.

“We just didn’t put hits together, we couldn’t get those two or three hits,” Mustangs coach Eric Palleschi said. “Their pitcher did a great job of keeping us off balance. We were out on our front foot and we just didn’t make that adjustment to him.

“That’s a very good team, but our kids played well.”

Monmouth turned to its regular shortstop, junior right-hander Hayden Fletcher, to make his first pitching start of the season. And while he pitched well — allowing four earned runs on five hits over 4 2/3 innings — Orono was able to use its speed game to control the scoreboard.

Orono took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first as Zach Needham singled, stole second, advanced to third on DeSisto’s groundout to third and scored on Caleb Ryder’s sacrifice fly to left.

The Red Riots used a similar scenario to make it 2-0 in the fourth, this time with Ryder leading off with a single to left. He stole second, then scored on back-to-back groundouts by Dill and Shorette.

Monmouth mounted its biggest threat in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners to first and third with two outs. But when Hunter Frost took off to steal second base, DeSisto came up firing and caught Matt Marquis too far off third base, with third baseman Javier Santiago applying the inning-ending tag.

“We’ve been running that play since my sophomore year,” DeSisto said.

Orono chased Fletcher with two runs in the fifth. Dana Crocker singled with one out, stole second and scored as Ellis Spaulding grounded an RBI single to center. Spaulding stole second, advanced on Needham’s groundout and scored to make it 4-0 as DeSisto doubled down the left-field line.

Orono added its final run off reliever Kyle Palleschi in the sixth as Jordan Cota hit a one-out single to right, stole both second and third and scored on Santiago’s sacrifice fly to left.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...