SOUTH BERWICK, Maine – Though separated by less than 3 miles down Route 236, the Marshwood High School and Berwick Academy baseball teams had never competitively played against each other until this season.
That meant Tuesday afternoon’s matchup between the schools in the preliminary round of the Class A South tournament was the first — and perhaps only — time that they would meet in the postseason.
No. 13 Berwick proved it was ready by jumping out to a 5-2 lead through two innings, but Marshwood starting pitcher Andrew Gray settled down, and the fourth-seeded Hawks chipped their way back into the next round.
Marshwood gave Gray the lead in the fourth and Reed Smaracko threw the final two innings, preserving a 7-5 victory over the Bulldogs. It was the fourth time Marshwood beat Berwick this season, posting regular-season wins of 15-0, 6-3 and 6-5.
“This was the kind of game I expected,” Marshwood head coach Eric Wells said. “We played them three times and it’s been close in two of them and I knew they’d be ready. They have a good coaching staff and I know a couple of their leaders would want to come out and beat us. It’s hard to beat a team four times. We know each other.”
Marshwood (12-5) will host No. 5 Falmouth (14-3) in Thursday’s regional quarterfinals at 4:30 p.m. Falmouth advanced with a 5-3 win over No. 12 Biddeford.
“(Gray) didn’t have his best stuff today,” Wells said. “He gutted it out, and the offense kept grinding.”
Berwick (4-11) normally plays in the New England Prep School Conference, but with inter-state travel hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Berwick athletics were allowed to compete in the Maine Principals Association this season.
The Bulldogs opened the game with three straight hits, including a double Spencer Aubin, a Dover resident who will play at UMass-Lowell next season. Mila Michaud (three hits) had an RBI single, and Aubin scored on a double play to give Berwick a 2-0 lead.
Smaracko and Gray had RBI singles in the Marshwood’s half of the first, tying the game at 2-2 off Berwick starter Zack Hawry-Lein.
The Bulldogs came back with three runs in the second. Berwick took advantage of an error and scored on RBI hits from Tyler Shelgren and Ian Kula, along with a sacrifice fly from Aubin to take a 5-2 lead.
“‘That’s been our season where we’ve been in 85 percent of the games and come up a little short,” Berwick coach James Smucker said. “This team had beaten us three times, but what we wanted to focus on was trying to take the next step and get over that hump of losing one- and two-run games. We just couldn’t figure it out.”
Gray buckled down, allowing one hit in his final three innings to put himself in position for the win. For the game, Gray allowed three earned runs on five hits and two walks while striking out four.
“It was a scorcher out today, it was like 95 (degrees) and I was sweating a lot,” Gray said. “It was big that our offense got back two runs right away. I felt good after that and got into a groove.”
Marshwood closed the gap with RBI singles by D.J. Cagnina in the second and Jackson Polllard in the third, which set the stage for the Hawks to take the lead in the fourth.
After Cagnina drew a one-out walk, freshman Noah Fitzgerald smoked an RBI double to tie the game, and Gray’s RBI groundout gave Marshwood a 6-5 lead. Fitzgerald finished with three hits from the No. 2 spot in the order and has made a big first impression this season.
“The first couple of innings we were a little nervous, but I think we swung it really well today,” Fitzgerald said. “We didn’t really have many bad at-bats and everybody was comfortable in the box.”
“Noah has been figuring it all year for us,” Wells said. “He started a little slow. But we’ve been asking him to do more jobs for us like bunts, moving guys over and he’s been swinging it well the past month of the season.”
Berwick didn’t go down easy. The Bulldogs had the tying runs on base when Aubin came up with one out in the seventh. Smaracko stared down the challenge and struck out Aubin before inducing a Michaud grounder to end the game.
“Last time I faced (Aubin), I think it was the first game, he hit a home run off me,” Smaracko said. “But my arm felt pretty good today and I tried to throw a fastball by him and it worked out.”