SACO — Joshua Penney had already seen 11 pitches in his at-bat to lead off the fourth inning. Thornton Academy’s junior left fielder and No. 7 hitter kept fouling pitches from Gorham starter Jack Karlonas up and over the Rams’ dugout along the first base side.

On the 12th pitch, Penney singled up the middle to start a three-run rally.

“I just switched my approach. I had a two-strike approach and kept fouling the ball off until he gave me something to hit,” Penney said. “I like it low, so he gave me something low and I drilled it up the middle. I was the leadoff hitter and getting on base was big there and I think it started a little something.”

Penney and Owen Critchley (single) would both score when AJ Thibodeau, the No. 9 hitter, turned another lengthy at-bat into a two-run single through a drawn-in infield. Overall, the bottom third of Thornton’s order went 5 for 9 with five runs and three RBI – Penney had a run-scoring knock in the fifth – as the defending Class A champions beat Gorham, 8-1, in a Class A South quarterfinal Thursday.

“You always wonder, as he’s fouling those off, ‘Who is going to win this?'” said Thornton Coach Jason Lariviere. “You just know there’s going to be momentum if he gets a hit or a walk. That was big for us.”

No. 4 Thornton (12-5) will take a nine-game winning streak into Saturday’s regional semifinal against top-seeded Falmouth or No. 8 Cheverus. Those teams will play at 4 p.m. Friday after their game was postponed because of rain on Thursday afternoon.


No. 5 Gorham finishes at 11-7.

Thornton does not have a dominant hard-throwing ace like 2022 Varsity Maine Player of the Year Cody Bowker but it does have three quality pitchers who throw strikes. Critchley worked six innings to earn the win Thursday, giving up seven hits as Gorham left 10 runners on base. Jack Nussbaum, a lefty, pitched a scoreless seventh. Josh Kopetski, who started Thornton’s 1-0 championship game victory against Bangor last year, is likely to get the start Saturday.

Thornton junior shortstop Jeremiah Chessie made the defensive play of the game in the fifth inning. With the bases loaded, Karlonas hit a hard grounder that Chessie backhanded deep in the hole and threw a hard, accurate peg that took two hops into outstretched first baseman Jacob Fish’s mitt for the third out.

“We started (the season) 3-5 and we changed some things up, got a different mindset and started winning and now we’re on our ninth straight win and we’re feeling good,” said Chessie, a junior and three-year starter.

Thornton collected 10 hits and showed it will not give away at-bats. In 33 plate appearances, Thornton struck out twice and popped up once. That meant Gorham had to make a play 30 times and the Rams committed six infield errors.

“When we made mistakes they did a good job taking advantage of it,” said Gorham Coach Chuck Nadeau. “And, I thought, when we had opportunities they had a kid make a great play, like (Chessie) at shortstop. That was an amazing play.”

Thornton scored twice in the first with two outs. Brayden Williams stayed back on a Karlonas curve up in the zone and drove a two-out RBI triple to right-center. Evan Beaudette, who had reached on an error, scored. Williams scored when Kopetski beat out an infield dribbler to the right side.

Up 5-0, Thornton scored three more in the fifth. Penney (2 for 3) drove in Harry Bunce, who was a pinch-runner for Fish after he boomed a double to deep right. After a two-out Gorham error, Henry Lausier stroked a two-run single.

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