SANFORD — The challenge for the Sanford Mainers Monday night was simple: Solve the Newport Gulls’ pitching staff.
The problem was doing it and as a result the Mainers’ 2013 New England Collegiate Baseball League season is over.
The Gulls’ Sean Hartnett threw six shutout innings and his bullpen slammed the door on a 4-0 win at Goodall Park to sweep the best-of-three first-round playoff.
“That’s a good team, going up against that team,” Mainers shortstop and University of Maine rising senior Troy Black said.
“It’s always tough saying good-bye to all these guys. Seeing each other every day for two and a half months, it’s tough; we’re pretty much a family now. It’s tough saying bye for sure.”
The Gulls’ bullpen made sure the Mainers’ farewells would be Monday in Sanford.
Kyle McGrath retired all six batters he faced.
Kyle Wilcox worked the ninth, allowing a lead-off single to Nic Wilson — Sanford’s first hit since the fourth — before getting the next three batters, stranding Wilson at third.
It was the first time a Mainer reached third in the game.
“We had our opportunities early. We needed that one big hit but also, Hartnett did a great job early,” said Aaron Izaryk, Sanford’s fourth-year manager.
The Mainers went 22-23 in the regular season. With five games left in the season, they were 31/2 games out of the playoffs and rallied to force — and then win — a play-in game against the Laconia Muskrats for the East Division’s fourth and final playoff berth.
“This team came together and gritted its teeth and they wanted to be in the big game, to be in the playoffs,” Izaryk said.
Newport (30-14) was the class of the East behind a pitching staff with a combined 2.19 ERA.
In the series opener, Newport won 11-4, with starter Brett Graves throwing six no-hit innings.
Newport will meet the Mystic Schooners in the East Division final of the wooden-bat league, starting on Wednesday.
Starter Evan Hill took Monday’s loss, allowing three runs on three hits in the second inning. His University of Michigan teammate, Brett Winger, lined an outside fastball to right for a two-run single and a 3-0 lead.
“That was the dagger. He got the best of me there. He’s a good hitter and he’s seen me all fall and spring,” Hill said.
Hill worked 12/3 innings in the third and fourth but walked the bases loaded in the fifth.
Aaron Casper relieved and got out of the jam, getting Trace Tam Sing (Boston’s 22nd-round draft pick in 2010) to line softly to Robert Wayman at second.
After Casper worked a scoreless sixth, the Gulls added a run in the seventh against Iannic Remillard, who did eventually strike out the side.
Sanford’s best chance to get on the board came in the first inning.
Black singled sharply to left and his University of Maine teammate Sam Balzano (Portland/Deering High) beat out an infield single.
But Danny Nevares’ sacrifice bunt attempt was popped up to catcher Austin Barr, and Hartnett struck out Anthony Pappio on high heat and then got Cole Martin to ground to short.
NOTES: All 20 starters Monday represented Division I college programs. Newport should change its name to the Pac-12 Gulls. Seven Gulls’ starters played this spring in the Division I conference. Sanford’s Steven Rice finished a standout season with two scoreless innings of relief. The 5-foot-8 lefty reliever, who commands a nasty assortment of breaking balls, struck out two hitters, finishing the year with 54 Ks in 302/3 innings and an ERA of just 0.88.