There wasn’t much more Jacob Thomas could do as he led fifth-ranked Messalonskee of Oakland to its 6-2 Class A North baseball quarterfinal victory over No. 4 Brewer on Tuesday afternoon on Mahaney Diamond at the University of Maine in Orono.
The senior left-hander silenced Brewer’s bats with a pitching philosophy based on changing speeds and mixing pitches, tossing a complete-game four-hitter that required just 72 pitches — 58 that were strikes.
“He’s a real old-school pitcher,” Messalonskee coach Eric Palin said. “He mixes up his speeds really well. He’s not going to blow the ball by you, and he’ll be the first to admit it, but I’m watching some of those at-bats, and he doesn’t throw two balls at the same speed in most of them and just keeps guys off balance.”
Thomas also displayed considerable balance of his own in the batter’s box, hitting four singles in as many plate appearances with three RBIs as Messalonskee improved its record to 11-7 and earned a trip to Saturday’s regional semifinals.
“Jacob Thomas basically did everything for us but drive the bus today,” Palin said. “Four-for-4 with a bunch of RBIs, and he pitched a gem for us. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Messalonskee also got a big game from catcher Joe Ardito, who doubled, walked twice and scored three runs from the No. 9 spot in the batting order.
He walked with one out in the second inning, went to third on an overthrown pickoff attempt by Brewer pitcher Grady Vanidestine and scored on Garrett Card’s sacrifice fly to shallow right field for the game’s first run.
Ardito ignited a two-run rally in the fifth inning with a one-out double down the left-field line, then drew a leadoff walk and scored as the Eagles put the game away with three runs in the top of the seventh.
“He’s a great second leadoff guy,” Thomas said.
Pivotal play/player: Messalonskee was clinging to a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth when Ardito hit his one-out double. Vanidestine retired the next batter, but Mitchell Grant lofted a pop-up into shallow center field that fell among four Brewer defenders, resulting in a two-out, RBI double as Ardito scored from second. Grant then stole third base and scored to make it 3-0 when Thomas had the third of his four hits, an RBI single to right.
“That definitely gave us a lot of momentum,” Thomas said. “It made me feel a lot better on the mound.”
Brewer finally ended Thomas’ shutout bid with an unearned run in the bottom of the sixth, but Messalonskee put the game away with a three-run seventh, including a two-run single to center by Thomas and a sacrifice bunt by Brendan Roderick that enabled Grant to score from second base.
Big takeaway: Messalonskee is in strong position after winning two playoff games in two days — including a one-run Round-of-16 victory over No. 12 Brunswick on Tuesday. The Eagles now have two days off before playing the semifinal game and will have its full pitching staff available for the rest of its championship quest.
Most of the other Class A North quarterfinals are scheduled for Thursday but with threatening weather conditions those games may not be played until Friday, leaving the survivors of those games faced with playing a second game in as many days with the semifinals set for Saturday.
“We keep preaching that we’ve got 10 days and three games until we’re hoisting that trophy, and every single one of these guys believes it,” Palin said.
What’s next: Messalonskee will play the winner of Thursday’s scheduled 3 p.m. quarterfinal at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor between top-ranked and defending regional champion Bangor (15-1) and No. 9 Skowhegan (9-8) in the semifinals. Brewer ends its season with a 7-10 record.