By Mike Zhe
LEE — Brennen Oxford struck out four — count ‘em, four — batters in the first inning on Friday, and the ones that followed weren’t too shabby, either.
The Oyster River High School baseball team is off to a 2-0 start after a 7-2 win over St. Thomas Aquinas at its temporary home at Little River Park. Oxford, a sophomore left-hander, struck out 14 batters and allowed just two hits in 5 1/3 innings.
“I put it in a lot of work over the fall to gain velocity and body control,” said Oxford. “I feel like it’s working a lot. It feels good.”
Another Maverick, freshman outfielder Owen Tonkin, batting in the No. 8 slot, drove in four runs, going 3-for-3 and adding a squeeze bunt. The Bobcats’ starting lineup was made up of four juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen.
A year after taking eventual Division II champion Windham to its final at-bat in the quarterfinals with a senior-heavy roster, the retooled Bobcats have looked very sharp in their two wins early on.
“I went into this season scared to death wondering if we could find a catcher,” said Oyster River coach Craig Walfield. “Right from Day 1 (Andrew St. Ours) made me feel more confident. Then through the winter workouts I saw I had three freshmen who could all pitch. “It was like, ‘I could be OK here. This might not be a rebuilding year. We might be able to get right back at it again.’”
Jordan Funk hit a long solo home run for St. Thomas, which was playing its season opener.
“Obviously, a dominant pitching performance,” said St. Thomas coach Marc Schoff. “About as good as we’ve ever seen in April. If he’s not one of the best pitchers in the division, I’ll be stunned.”
Oxford, who recorded four strikeouts in the top of the first after one batter fanned but reached on a wild pitch, began building the cushion he’d need himself, driving in freshman Sam McGregor with a two-out single in the bottom of the second for the game’s first run.
The Bobcats added three more runs in the third, loading the bases with one out and plating two on Tonkin’s single to right. After an intentional walk to Oxford, Maverick Ben Isaak made the Saints pay with a line single to center to make it 4-1.
Oxford cruised through the first three innings, fanning nine, before the Saints broke up the no-hitter and shutout in the fourth. Their own starting pitcher, Tom Beliveau, did the honors with an RBI single that brought Maverick Cam Patten around. But the Bobcats made it 6-1 in the bottom half of the fourth, pushing across a pair of unearned runs.
“We knew Beliveau could throw the ball hard,” said Walfield. “I had confidence we’d hit the ball hard and we knew we wouldn’t be able to steal many bases with Logan (LaRochelle) behind the plate.”
Funk’s homer in the sixth — a laser over the deep, tall fence in straightaway center — chased Oxford but it was the only run the Saints could manage the rest of the way. McGregor came on to get the last five outs.
“I was getting it by everyone early on,” said Oxford. “As we got into the game I had to change. I made a mistake to Funk and he made me pay. Fastball right down the middle.” “Jordan’s capable of doing that,” said Schoff.
Both teams have slugging Portsmouth (2-0) on their schedule next week. The Saints get them on Monday on Dover Point, their home opener. They played just about everyone on their 19-player roster Friday, either as a pitcher, defensive substitute or pinch-hitter, and are very much a work in progress.
The fourth and last of their pitchers, yet another Maverick, Jack Gallines, pitched the final two innings, allowing one run and no walks, and fanning three.
“I’m making up the line-up card for the first time in a few years without a lot of kids in their third year on varsity,” said Schoff.
The young Bobcats, meanwhile, feel they can grow up ahead of schedule.
“Definitely we’re young, but it’s a good young,” said Oxford. “We’ve got freshmen who can pitch, juniors who can pitch. We’ve got depth. … I think we can still compete.”