SANFORD — Mainers designated hitter Dalton Thomas finished the season as the New England Collegiate Baseball League batting champion, hitting .380 for the season, but started off the postseason quietly at the plate.

Thomas soon showed why he deserved the league’s batting title, driving in the game-winning run with a perfectly-placed single in the bottom of the seventh inning as Sanford edged North Adams 5-4 in Game 1 of an NECBL North Division Semifinal series Monday night at Goodall Park.

“I got a good pitcher I’m facing there. I kind of got away from myself and what I do, and my approach at the plate the first three at bats, didn’t feel good about it,” Thomas said about facing SteepleCats starter Dakota Edwards. “And they brought in a lefty, which plays into my approach well. I (stuck) to my approach and got a pitch I could handle and got it in the hole.”

After starting the game 0-for-3, Thomas finally connected against SteepleCats reliever Charles Bryson with a one-out single into the gap in left-center that drove in Sam Dexter and put the Mainers up 5-4.

“He’s too good of a hitter, too smart of a hitter to have a fourth poor at bat. I think he’s trying to do too much, and then he hangs in there and gets a hit, and all of a sudden he’s back to normal,” Sanford manager Aaron Izaryk said of Thomas. “He’s a guy who gets a least a hit a game, and that’s what he does.”

Hits were hard to come by for a lot of Sanford batters early in the game against Edwards, who no-hit the Mainers in Sanford in his season debut on June 20. He went 10 batters into Monday’s game before giving up his first hit, a hard single by Dexter through the left side of the infield that drove in David Schanz to make it a 1-1 game in the third.

Edwards had to work around three errors over the first two innings, but was able to get out of jams by inducing inning-ending fly outs both times.

It was when Edwards made his own mistakes that the Mainers made him pay. A leadoff walk to Schanz in the third was the first instance. An inning later, Edwards hit Brendan Skidmore with a pitch and Nate Stepna followed with an RBI double to put Sanford up 2-1.

The Mainers really got to Edwards in the sixth in their third time through the batting order. Shaine Hughes led off with a deep double, and after a strikeout of Thomas, Dan Hetzel singled to center before Skidmore drove in both runners with a double to right-center.

“Skidmore had a big hit, Stepna had a big hit. We had a couple big hits tonight. We’ve been missing those, and when you don’t win it’s ”˜aw, we didn’t get the big hit,’” said Izaryk. “Tonight we got a couple big hits, and certainly they paid off.”

The sixth inning was the last for Edwards, who won the NECBL’s ERA title, with a 1.16 mark during the regular season. He allowed four runs on five hits, with two strikeouts and two walks.

That was the same amount of innings as Sanford starter Ben Wessel lasted. The right-hander from Scarborough gave up a single run in the second after a leadoff single and two-out RBI single, then allowed two more runs in the fifth after consecutive one-out singles and a two-out, two RBI double. Wessel was charged for three runs on seven hits, while striking out five batters and walking just one.

“I thought Ben pitched fine. He left a couple balls up and they hit them, and credit to them for that,” Izaryk said of Wessel. “But Ben kept us in the game and gave us a chance.”

The game was tied when Wessel’s outing came to an end. The Mainers briefly took the lead back in the bottom of the sixth against Edwards, but the SteepleCats knotted the back-and-forth game back up in the top of the seventh against Sanford reliever Cody Dube.

Parker Perez glanced a ball off the mound for a one-out single, then moved to second on Logan Boyher’s groundout. Graham McIntire then tied the game 4-4 with a single to shallow center before Dube could get out of the inning.

“I thought my fastball was pretty good tonight, but my slider didn’t have the break that I needed to have,” said Dube.

Dube’s hiccup only set the stage for Thomas’ redemption in the home half of the seventh. Dexter was hit by a pitch with one out, then moved to second on Hughes’ single to shallow center. Thomas then stepped to the plate and showed both his hitting prowess and his persistence in giving the Mainers a lead that finally stuck.

But that was all for runs in the frame, as Hetzel followed with a single that loaded the bases, but Tanner Bird came on in relief of Bryson and got out of the jam with a strikeout and a fly out.

Dube then allowed a leadoff single in the top of the eighth, but induced a fielder’s choice and a pair of fly outs. Cam Hatch came on in the ninth a closed out the victory with a 1-2-3 inning, including consecutive strikeouts to start the frame. A close play at first that easily could have gone against the Mainers instead served as the final out.

“That’s baseball right there,” said Dube. “You just hope that the things do go your way, and you make the big plays when you need to.”

The win put the Mainers in the driver’s seat in the best-of-three first round series, which shifts to North Adams, Massachusetts for Game 2 tonight.

“I don’t think we played as well as we could tonight, but we feel like if we’re firing on all cylinders we can beat any team in this league,” said Thomas.

Moose Tracks

”¢ Before the game Dube was announced as the recipient of the Neil Olson General Manager’s Award, given annually to the player who best exemplifies the spirit and enthusiasm of the Sanford Mainers organization.

“It’s awesome,” Dube said of the honor. “I’ve been here, this is my second (full season). It’s just been a great time, great place to spend my summer. The fans are great, and I’m going to miss this place.”

”¢ Edwards and McIntire are both former members of the Old Orchard Beach Raging Tide. McIntire played for the franchise during both 2013 and 2014, while Edwards’ only season with the team was last summer.

— Sports Staff Writer Wil Kramlich can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 323 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @WilTalkSports.

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