OLD ORCHARD BEACH—Norsemen second-baseman Ben Nelson (Gorham/Merrimack) choked off the opposition Nor’easters’ bottom-of-the-ninth comeback attempt in the first game of a double-header on Sunday afternoon, August 12. Nelson leapt and snatched a one-out line-drive from midair, then whipped the ball over to first to catch a Nor’easters runner, one who’d dashed away from the bag without expecting to need to dive backwards.

The bang-bang play clinched a 2-0 win for the Norsemen – good thing, too, as the team needed back-to-back victories to claim the Greater Northeast Collegiate Baseball League’s (GNCBL) 2018 crown, having arrived in the championship via the loser’s bracket.

“We had to make our way back into it,” Nelson said. “We were facing one-game elimination; they were facing two-game elimination. We knew we had to beat ‘em twice, so we just had to come out and play hard all day, pretty much.”

On fire for the second game, Nelson continued to produce on both sides of the ball: He went 4-5 through those latter innings, as the Norsemen assembled an even more impressive triumph than their first, a 10-4 rout.

“I had a really good day,” Nelson said. “My swing was feeling great. Same in the field, too; it just felt like a good day.”

“We got just enough hits in the first game to push ‘em across,” Norsemen head coach Chris Tilton said. “It gave us a good chance in the second game. We knew that once we got the first game, anything could happen.”

Game #1
The uphill half of game No. 1 blurred by, a series of one-two-three, one-two-three innings in which neither team could get on the scoreboard. Norsemen starting pitcher Emery Dinsmore (Waldo/Colby) and his Nor’easters counterpart, Gavin Arsenault (Dixfield/University of Maine Farmington), both threw strikes, and the Ks slowly mounted. Behind them in the field, other players turned routine ground and routine fly plays one after another.

The Norsemen actually sent four batters – four whole batters! – to the plate in the top of the sixth, with Ian Westphal (Portland/Southern Maine Community College) even singling into center. But Westphal wouldn’t find his way home again.

“We had to just grind out at-bats,” Tilton said. “And stick with what we’re trying to do, and get deep into the game and hit good pitches late.”

No, not until the bottom top of the seventh did the Norsemen finally break through the Nor’easter defense. Mike Sterritt (Exeter, New Hampshire/Great Bay Community College) kicked off the stretch, doubling barely fair down the rightfield line; Tim Brigham (Cape Elizabeth/Suffolk) followed him up with a matching double, this one all the way to the wall in the left-center gap. Sterritt crossed the plate.

Tilton applauded both Brigham and Sterritt. “Tim and Mike having those back-to-back doubles really got us started.”

Nelson then singled, a drive into right; he found himself caught out on a fielder’s choice at second, though, when Logan LaRochelle (Rochester, New Hampshire/GBCC) next clubbed a short infield grounder back toward the mound. LaRochelle, in turn, found himself caught out on another fielder’s choice when Chris Romano (Yarmouth/Colby) grounded to short. In that moment, though, Brigham raced home, setting the tally at 2-0.

2-0 is where things stood, too, when Nor’easter Max Salevsky (Bonny Eagle/Plymouth State) entered the batter’s box to begin the bottom of the ninth. Salevsky flied out to center, but Anthony DiPrizio (Rochester, New Hampshire/St. Joseph’s) followed him up with a single into left-center, giving the team hope.

Ben Malgeri (Straham, New Hampshire/Holy Cross) stepped to the plate after DiPrizio, and connected hard with a pitch; the ball lined toward right. DiPrizio dashed away from first, but Nelson snatched Malgeri’s contact out of midair like an eagle snatches a salmon from a river; he flipped it toward first. DiPrizio had to reverse course: Malgeri was out, but if DiPrizio could get back on the bag, the Nor’easters would survive at least a little longer.

In the end, though, Nelson’s throw outpaced DiPrizio, who simply had too far to go to reach safety. Norsemen first baseman Garrett Fosher (Exeter, New Hampshire/Curry) reeled in the ball, DiPrizio folded and the game was over.

“Ending a game on a double-play is always a good way to end it,” Nelson said. “It gives you a little extra momentum.”

“That was a great way to end it,” Tilton said. “Our infield defense, all year, has been phenomenal…These guys came to play every day, and that’s all I could ask for.”

Game #2
Nelson’s big catch and quick instincts at the end of game No. 1 helped juiced the Norsemen up; they carried that momentum into game No. 2, wasting little time in getting on the board. Ben Isaak – the team’s lead-off batter in the bottom of the first – ignited the 10-4 trampling with a solo homer over the leftfield wall. Nelson also picked up a single in the stretch, but he did so with two outs, and didn’t ultimately get a chance to score.

“We sort of caught fire going into the second game,” Nelson said. “Sometimes you lose a little energy going into the second game, because it’s just a long day.”

Also key to the Norsemen’s dual triumphs was their steadiness on the mound. Luke Klenda (Yarmouth/St. Joe’s) started for the team in the second game.

“We got phenomenal pitching performances out of the starters today,” Tilton said, “With Emery going a complete game, and Luke getting us into the eighth.”

The Nor’easters surged in the top of the second, seizing their first lead of the day on a trio of runs. Malgeri grounded to short, but beat the throw to reach; he eventually scored on a passed ball during Troy Bogdahn’s (Bonny Eagle/St. Joe’s) at-bat. Ben Gravel (Rochester, New Hampshire/St. Joe’s) followed Malgeri with another grounder single, this one into right; Gravel scored on a passed ball as well. Finally, Bogdahn – who walked onto base – rounded to home when Justin Rodrigue (Cony/University of Maine Farmington) blasted an RBI double into center.

The Nor’easters padded their lead – whatever momentum the Norsemen had carried into the contest seemed to dissipate – in the top of the third. Salevsky drove a single into center to lead off the stretch, and scored a few batters later, when Ben Lambert (Saco/USM) sac-flied into center. 4-1.

But the remainder of the day belonged to the Norsemen, who piled on nine more runs. Sterritt and Brigham both scored in the bottom of the third – Sterritt on a Nelson single into right and Brigham when Romano walked with the bases loaded – then again in the bottom of the fourth, when Isaak also scored. Isaak crossed the plate with the tying run, beating an attempt to catch him out, when Sterritt singled; Sterritt made it 5-4 when Brigham doubled down the leftfield line; and Brigham made it 6-4 on a Nelson drive into center.

Tilton nodded to Nelson’s efforts, as well as Isaak’s. “Ben Nelson had a ton of hits today,” he said. “Ben Isaak had a bunch of hits, starting this game off with a homerun, and I think he had another two doubles. That’s awesome. These are the guys that work really hard, too. They get here early. It was nice to see those guys come through in the biggest moment we’ve had all year.”

Dinsmore tallied in the bottom of the fifth, making it 7-4. Dinsmore reached on a Nor’easters error – one of few on the day; he scored shortly thereafter, when Westphal grounded toward the mound. Ben Conti, pitching at the time for the Nor’easters, leapt forward for the grab on Westphal’s contact; Conti hesitated choosing a target, though, and when he momentarily decided to shovel the ball homeward – when he hurled it for catcher DiPrizio, hoping DiPrizio could tag out Dinsmore on his way from third – his throw went wild and Dinsmore touched the plate easily.

DiPrizio – apparently, he believed the play had ended – was slow to retrieve the ball from near the backstop. But the play hadn’t ended: Fosher, seeing his chance, jetted off third himself. Now alert to a new danger, DiPrizio snatched up the ball, wheeled around and flipped it to Conti, covering the plate; Conti tagged out Fosher, then spun and threw back to third, where baseman Gravel laid a successful tag on Westphal.

In the end, the Nor’easters gave up a run, sure, but they also converted a botched play into a double-play.

Isaak scored in a few batters later; he doubled to reach, stole third and zipped to home on Sterritt contact.

The next two and a half innings settled out, with neither team generating anything work with. In the bottom of the eighth, though, the Norsemen notched two more – Isaak and Sterritt scored again, Isaak on a Brigham sac fly and Sterritt on a Nelson single drive into left.

The Nor’easters needed a big – a huge – top of the ninth if they hoped to save the day. Alas, they couldn’t wring another drop of blood from their stony opponents, and the game, the season, concluded on a flyout to Westphal in center.

The Nor’easters cruised through the winner’s bracket of the tournament by besting first the No. 5 Patriots 10-0, then the No. 1 Spartans 7-5. That’s when they initially ran into the Norsemen, which game the Nor’easters also took, 4-1. To that point, the Norsemen had beaten the Windjammers once, 4-0; dropping to the loser’s bracket upon meeting the Nor’easters pitted them against the Jammers a second time. They won 7-2 (see that story elsewhere in this week’s edition) and thus reached the Championship.

“We hit, we strung it together, and we stayed up the whole time,” Tilton said. “This is a fun group of guys. It has been, the whole summer.”

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

Nor’easters pitcher Ben Conti (South Portland/USM) hurtles an infield grounder back toward the plate in hopes of catching a Norsemen runner attempting to score.

Nor’easters first baseman Max Salevsky (Bonny Eagle/Plymouth State) leans otu to grab a throw.

Luke Klenda (Yarmouth/St. Joe’s) pitches for the Norsemen in their second win over the Nor’easters on Sunday.

Anthony DiPrizio (Rochester, New Hampshire/St. Joe’s) leads off first for the Nor’easters.

Troy Bogdahn (Bonny Eagle/St. Joe’s) unwinds into a pitch for the Nor’easters in their losing effort vs. the Norsemen.

Troy Bogdahn (Bonny Eagle/Willams) connects at the plate for the Nor’easters.

Norsemen second baseman Ben Nelson (Gorham/Merrimack) sweeps a tag toward would-be Nor’easters base-stealer Ben Conti (South Portland/USM).

The Nor’easters’ Max Salevsky (Bonny Eagle/Plymouth State) lunges toward a bouncing grounder.

Norsemen second baseman Ben Nelson (Gorham/Merrimack) fires toward first.

Ben Nelson (Gorham/Merrimack), at second for the Norsemen, gets beneath an infield fly.