Sam Clark, center, of Cheverus celebrates with teammates after defeating Windham, 3-0, on Saturday in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Cheverus High’s Sam Clark and Brady Afthim of Windham agreed: Knowing they were pitching against each other added extra competitive juice to their Class A baseball game on Saturday morning.

“I wanted to beat him just for bragging rights,” Afthim said. “It was a little different because I wanted him to do well, too, but I wanted to beat him at the same time.”

The two seniors are good friends from playing and training together with their travel team, the Maine Lightning. And both have committed to pitch for the University of Connecticut, one of the top NCAA Division I programs in the Northeast.

“We’re (like) brothers. It’s a good friendship, but there’s always a little bit of competitiveness on the field and off the field,” said Clark, who lives in Scarborough. “Chasing after each other really makes us get better.”

On Saturday, Clark and Cheverus won the battle, 3-0, en route to a doubleheader sweep in Portland.

Clark struck out 12, walked just one, and until the seventh inning did not allow a hit to anyone other than Afthim, who went 3 for 3. Clark was backing up his lively fastball with a sharp-breaking slider.

“I’ve topped 91 (mph) with my fastball, but it’s probably in the high 80s. It felt pretty good today,” Clark said.

In the seventh inning, Windham catcher Colby Raynor roped a leadoff double to left-center, and after an out and a Cheverus error, Windham had runners at first and third. Clark, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound right-hander, responded. He struck out Blake Peeples on high fastballs. Then, with Afthim in the on-deck circle, Clark caught No. 9 hitter Ryan Silva looking.

“When it looked like the tides were turning, and their best hitter (on deck), he showed grit to get that guy out and get us back in to start Game 2,” said Cheverus catcher Kevin Connolly.

Windham’s Brady Afthim allowed just four hits and struck out 11 – while going 3 for 3 at the plate – in 3-0 loss at Cheverus on Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Afthim, a 6-foot, 180-pound right-hander, also allowed just four hits, striking out 11 without a walk. But Cheverus was able to bunch its hits with Windham errors to score once in the second inning and twice in the third. After that, Afthim dominated, retiring nine straight, seven on strikeouts.

Afthim has been clocked at 94 mph, and his fastball noticeably popped with a bit more velocity than Clark’s.

But in the second inning, Afthim hung a curveball to Clark, who lined a single to left that was misplayed, allowing Clark to reach second. After Clark’s hit, he and Afthim smiled at each other and shared a little laugh.

“When Brady got his first hit he said, ‘Batting a thousand against you,'” Clark said. “So of course I had to say it back at him.”

After an excellent sacrifice bunt by Connolly, Clark scored on a single by Nick Giancotti.

In the third inning, Brady Cormier grounded a single to left to lead things off for Cheverus. Cormier stole second easily (Afthim is Windham’s top catcher when he’s not pitching). Matt Connor then hit a dribbler up the third-base line that Afthim fielded and tried to shovel to third. The ball went awry, allowing Cormier to score. Connor eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Cheverus freshman shortstop Brian Connolly.

“The couple pitches that got hit were up, and when Brady is down in the zone, his fastball has more run and his breaking ball has a little bit sharper bite,” said Windham Coach Cody Dube. “He really pitched well, just a couple pitches that were maybe a little bit up and Cheverus took advantage of them.”

Sam Clark of Cheverus smiles at Windham pitcher Brady Afthim after reaching second base in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday in Portland. The two players are teammates on the Maine Lightning club team, and both will pitch at the University of Connecticut. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Cheverus Coach Tony DiBiase is in his first season at Cheverus but has coached for over 40 years. Among his former players was Charlie Furbush of South Portland, who pitched in the major leagues. DiBiase said he wanted to challenge Clark by slotting him against Afthim, and Clark welcomed the challenge.

“I thought it would be great for high school baseball. And I thought it was,” DiBiase said. “Those two guys were good. Very good. You don’t see that matchup very often, guys throwing that hard with that kind of control. And they were excellent, both of them.”

Dube, who pitched two seasons in the Baltimore Orioles organization, believes both Afthim and Clark can be even better at the college level – in part because their good off-speed pitches will have greater effect.

“Pitchers like Brady and Sam, they’re overpowering right now. Their fastballs beat guys,” Dube said. “A lot of times, sliders and change-ups are the wrong pitch. It tends to be in the bat speed of the high school hitters.

“The jump for Brady and Sam is going to be learning how to use that. It may become easier because they can throw breaking balls and be effective because college hitters have faster hands.”

Afthim will head to Storrs, Connecticut, in late July to get a start on his freshman year.

“I’m playing right away. Or hopefully I will,” Afthim said.

Clark will enroll in college in the fall of 2022 after doing a prep year at The Winchendon School in Massachusetts.

“It will give me a good year to really work on getting bigger and throwing harder and perfecting my craft before going to UConn,” Clark said.

Afthim made his commitment first, then helped with the recruiting of Clark.

“He asked me why UConn, what stood out, and I really wanted him to go because I wanted to play with him. I wanted to see him there,” Afthim said. “I definitely am going to look forward to being teammates with him.”

Both players said they were impressed by the UConn coaching staff, the facilities including a brand-new in 2021 baseball field, the school’s winning culture (21 NCAA appearances, including in 2016, 2018 and 2019), and being able to play Division I in New England.

Kevin Connolly, the Cheverus catcher, thinks UConn will be glad to have the two Maine products.

“If (Clark) keeps getting better, the sky’s the limit for him and I think he can have success wherever he goes,” Connolly said.

And Afthim?

“He’s good. His slider is really good. His fastball’s got late life to it. He throws hard. He’s going to be really good in the future and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on TV someday.”


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