By Eric Keppeler
JAMESTOWN – Junior Maxx Countryman tossed a seven-hitter to lift the Section V champion Avon Braves to a 14-5 win over Section VI titlist Maple Grove on Saturday in the Class C Far West Regional at Diethrick Park in Jamestown.
The Braves advance to next weekend’s state semifinals in Binghamton, cracking the final four for the second straight year. Avon was defeated in last year’s title game, and Countryman said his team was definitely driven by a sense of unfinished business.
“It’s definitely good to be going back,” said Countryman, who allowed three earned runs while walking three and striking out 10. “It’s very exciting, and hopefully we can finish the job this time.”
The Braves bludgeoned the Red Dragons pitching staff, pounding out 18 hits. Sophomore Easton Tanner took the loss, allowing five earned runs in 2.2 innings.
“They’re obviously a very talented team,” Maple Grove coach Ryan Lucas said. “They handle the bats really well. They’re a solid team and I wish those guys the best of luck.”
Maple Grove struck for a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to a pair of unearned runs and a sacrifice fly from Ayden Reagle.
Countryman settled down after that, retiring 10 of the next 11 batters while giving his offense a chance to get on track.
“I was a little nervous,” Countryman said, “but I got rid of the nerves. I knew it was a long game, and I have a great team behind me. I just let the guys do their thing.”
The Braves backed up their ace in short order, churning out four runs in the second inning and adding three more in both the third and fifth frames for a 10-3 lead.
The Dragons got one back in the bottom of the fifth when shortstop Dalton Dubois tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly from Tanner.
They pulled to within five runs in the sixth when junior John Hairston singled and later scored when Dubois was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
But Avon distanced itself again with four more runs in the top of the seventh, and Countryman set the Dragons down in order to close out the game.
“We had a few opportunities to get back into the game,” Lucas said. “But give them credit – one (Countryman) settled in, he was tough to break out of his rhythm.”
Second baseman Peyton Parmeter led the Braves with three hits and three RBIs, while Pete Taylor, Matt Smith, Brendan Coyne, Bryce Read and Countryman all added two hits apiece.
Hairston and Dubois finished with two hits apiece for the Red Dragons.
“Definitely not the kind of game you expect in the regionals,” Lucas said. “We knew they were really talented and they could hit the ball well. We just couldn’t figure out their pitcher.”