FREEPORT – Matt Riggle capped a huge, seven-run third inning with a grand slam homerun on Thursday evening, July 20, propelling Yankee Ford past Zone Three United in both teams’ last regular-season bout. Z3U began slowly to chip away at their deficit after that, adding three in the sixth on runs by Gibson Harnett, Jake Winchester and Nick McCann, for instance; they couldn’t, however, produce quite enough in the time they had left, and fell in the end 8-4.

“We, one through nine, are pretty strong, offensively,” said Yankee Ford head coach Alan Livingston. “Lately, we’ve caught some pretty good pitching. I was expecting we might have some trouble tonight. [Z3U starter Harnett] threw a no-hitter against Coastal; they lost one-zip to Coastal earlier in the year.”

“The theme of our season seemed to be ‘one bad inning,’” said Z3U head coach Erik Winchester. “I looked at it this way: We’re going to have that one bad inning, however it happens. Let’s try to minimize the damage. The baseball gods, that’s how they work sometimes.”

“It happened again tonight; and then we slowly started to climb out of it,” Winchester said. “They scored all those runs in that one inning, and it was early on. And we slowly started to peck away.”

Yankee Ford combines players from South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough, Gorham, Bonny Eagle and Sacopee Valley. Z3U, meanwhile, is built of Freeporters, Gray-New Gloucesterites, Yarmouthites and a lone Lake Regioner.

Yankee Ford travels to Bangor for the State tournament this week. Z3U finishes the season at 2-16.

The teams held each other silent through the first two innings; not until the third did anyone – in this case, Yankee – finally put some numbers on the board. Trevor Loubier (Sacopee Valley) began it, grounding toward third but reaching base on an off-target throw to first. Marshall Peterson (Cape Elizabeth) followed Loubier to the plate and promptly blasted a drive double to wide left; Nate Ingalls (Cape Elizabeth) then brought both boys home with a single drive to right.

Thereafter, Ben Conti (South Portland), D.J. Shea (Sacopee Valley) and Alex Livingston (South South Portland) all found their way onto base for Yankee Ford as well. That’s when Riggle stepped up to work his batting magic. Riggle’s grand slam cleared the distant left-center fence and put his boys on top 7-0.

“I’ve got to give them credit for that inning,” Winchester said of Yankee. “My pitcher, Gibson Harnett (Yarmouth), had a tough time locating, and he was leaving balls just right over the plate. You can’t do that with hitters. A two-and-two left over the plate with bases loaded, he’s going to put it out of the park, and that’s exactly what [Riggle] did.”

Z3U added a run in the fifth, Jake Dyer (Yarmouth) scoring on a John Henry Villanueva (GNG) ground-out to short. One lone run left Z3U still trailing by a proverbial mile, of course, but they tallied three more in the fifth. Harnett reached third after his shot to center – which should’ve been no more than a single – took a crazy bounce on the dry, lumpy turf and jetted away from the Yankee Ford fielder. Harnett arrived at home when Jake Winchester (GNG) singled, and Winchester moved on to second when McCann (GNG) singled behind him. Both boys raced home on a wild pitch by Yankee Ford’s Brandon Burrell (Sacopee Valley).

“To my guys’ credit,” Erik Winchester said, “they came in after [giving up seven in the third], and the talk in the dugout was, ‘Okay, let’s forget about that.’ And it wasn’t by me, it was by the players. ‘Nothing we can do about it, let’s just let it go, let’s get it back.’”

“Our defense definitely tightened up after that,” Winchester said. “Gibson started hitting hits spots better; I think he settled in a little, on the mound. Sometimes it takes him a little while to find his stride, as with a lot of pitchers, and he finally did.”

“I give them a lot of credit,” Alan Livingston said of Z3U. “First-year team. The toughest thing is getting a team started. I think Erik’s done a wonderful job putting it together. They’ve hung together; they’ve only won two or three games, but they compete. Early in the year, we beat them pretty badly – the first two times we played them. Since then, we were up here not too long ago, got up 9-1, next thing you know it’s 9-7. Tonight, same thing: They keep pounding, they keep battling. Erik’s got them playing the game right, and I’m proud of them.”

But Z3U would ultimately come up short. 

Yankee added one more in the top of the seventh – Conti scored on a Brogan McDonald (Gorham) deep-center double – then turned a 6-4-3 double-play to cut short Z3U’s last at-bats and nix any lingering hopes they might’ve been entertaining, hopes of an epic comeback. 8-4 the final.

Winchester took a moment to applaud a couple of his players. “My shortstop today, Chris Romano (Yarmouth), had a couple of really great plays. Last couple of games, he was struggling on defense, and that was getting into his head. I had a little talk with him before this game; again, you go by that theme of ‘let it go.’ Short-term memory, you’ve got to have it. Because every game is different, every inning is different, every pitch is different.”

“My rightfielder today, Aiden Sweeney,” Winchester went on, “came up from Junior Legion to help us out. I put him in the cleanup spot, because the last couple times he’s come up for us, he’s been hitting the ball really well. He had some good contact today.”

Winchester added some last thoughts on the season. “I’m glad the guys got together in the way that they did. My big obstacle, what I really wanted to do, was to get these guys to come together from the different towns. ‘Forget that you play for Yarmouth, forget that you play for Gray-New Gloucester; right now, you play for Zone 3 United. And I think they did a good job.”

Harnett logged a solid day at the plate for Z3U, hashing a single and that triple. Jake Winchester and Zach Mann both added a single and a double. Over on Yankee Ford’s scoresheet, Marshall Peterson looked especially powerful with a single and two doubles.

Adam Birt can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.

Zach Mann reels in a ball at second base for Z3U.

At third for Z3U, an airborne Eli Winchester grabs a bouncy grounder.

Brogan McDonald works behind the plate for Yankee Ford in their win over Z3U.

Z3U second baseman Zach Mann grabs a throw and wheels into a tag attempt on Yankee Ford’s Marshall Peterson.

Z3U first baseman John Henry Villanueva grabs a throw for an out.

John Henry Villanueva grabs an infield fly.

Nick McCann scores for Z3U in the sixth.

Jake Winchester arrives home for Z3U.

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