Richmond pitches no-hitter against Fort Fairfield as Bobcats win ‘D’ baseball crown

BANGOR, Maine — Sometimes, a catcher has to wait a few innings to figure out what kind of stuff his pitcher has on a given afternoon.

And sometimes, as Richmond’s Trystin Shea will tell you, it only takes a few nasty curveballs in the bullpen to convince you that your ace — in this case Zach Small — will be tough to top.

That was the case on Saturday afternoon, as the South champion Bobcats got a dominant pitching performance from Small (an abbreviated no-hitter due to the 10-run rule) as Richmond topped North champion Fort Fairfield 11-0 in five innings at Mansfield Stadium.

Richmond finishes up at 18-1, while the Tigers wind up 15-3.

“I knew he was on right from the first pitch he threw,” Shea said. “The speed was perfect, he was throwing good strikes. He did amazing. He did awesome in this game.”

Shea said he called the pitches, and quickly realized that Fort Fairfield was struggling with Small’s sharp-breaking curve, which often buckled the legs of batters who were watching it bear in on them, then darted away for called strikes.

“We were focusing on the curveballs, because they couldn’t hit ’em,” Shea said. “We were throwing about 75 percent curveballs.”

The curveballs worked, but Fort Fairfield coach John Ala said Small’s velocity on the fastball set up his offspeed pitch and made it difficult on his hitters.

“He’s the fastest pitcher we’ve seen this year, and he had a good curveball as well,” Ala said.

Small struck out seven and needed only 55 pitches to dispatch the Tigers. The only two baserunners reached on a walk to the first batter of the game and a hit batsman in the fifth.

Small said the dominant curve has been a new development.

“Lately I’ve been … struggling with the curveball. My curveball hasn’t been getting over,” Small said. “Today, I liked that mound and I was able to get over the top of the curveball it was really able to be effective today.”

Richmond wasted no time hopping out on top, turning two hits, a Fort Fairfield error, a wild pitch, a passed ball and three stolen bases into a 3-0 lead.

The Bobcats scored four more in the second and two in the fourth, successfully stealing bases on their first six attempts, and led 9-0 after 3 1/2 innings.

After that, it was just a question of whether the Tigers would mount any kind of a threat against Small.

They didn’t.

Richmond backed Small with 10 hits and 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts. Nathan Kendrick drove in a two runs on a triple and a single, Matt Rines rapped two singles, Daniel Stewart singled and scored three runs. Small and Dakota Gilpatrick each doubled and scored twice.

“Good things always happen when you don’t give up any hits,” Richmond coach Ryan Gardner said. “He was on. He wanted this game.”

Richmond lost in the regional final a year ago, and Gardner said that experience inspired his group.

“We were hyper-focused. We were disappointed in the outcome last year,” Gardner said. “About the end of May, we just said, ‘This is what we want.’ We hit the ball, hit the ball, hit the ball in practice and worked on our fundamentals. We had 25 hits the last two games.”

And Gardner said Shea could call the pitches he wanted, the coaching staff was keeping a close eye on the effect Small’s pitches were having.

“You get through the order once, and you’re looking for people buckling,” he said. “But also, we’re looking for kids who aren’t getting around on a fastball. Because we want to limit pitch count, too.”

Ala gave Richmond all the credit, but said his team didn’t put forth its best effort.

“We definitely came out and had a case of the nerves. These guys have been in a lot of big games across all three major sports seasons,” Ala said. “So they were pretty battle-tested, but for whatever reason the errors kind of got the best of us in the first inning or two.”

Malcolm Langner and Dylan Jandreau were the only Tigers to reach base.

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