BANGOR, Maine — Bangor’s first baseball game of the spring against Brewer featured a last-inning rally that came up three runs short.
Final-inning heroics produced a more rewarding result in the rematch Friday night, as senior first baseman Zane Gray’s seventh-inning sacrifice fly drove home Ryan Larochelle with the winning run to give the Rams a hard-fought 5-4 victory at Mansfield Stadium.
Brewer (9-4) had rallied from an early 4-1 deficit with three runs in the middle innings, giving the Witches hope for a sweep of the season series against their cross-river rivals.
But Larochelle led off the bottom of the seventh with his fourth single of the game, and then advanced to second on Mack Susi’s two-strike sacrifice bunt back to the mound.
“That was [coach Jeff Fahey’s] call on the third one,” said Susi. “I wasn’t really surprised he put it on because I knew we needed to get Ryan over to second. The first two [failed bunts] were my fault, and the third one wasn’t great either because I made it too close for Ryan at second.”
The play at second was indeed close, with Larochelle barely beating the throw from Brewer pitcher Pat McEwen.
“You’ve got to make that play at second base and I thought we did,” said Brewer coach Dave Morris, whose club played without star outfielder Billy Bissell (knee) and suffered its third straight loss. “But it’s a judgment call and that opened the door up for them to do something else.”
That something else was another bunt, as Nate Lewis sacrificed the runners to second and third. Jordan Clarke then was intentionally walked before Gray hit a 2-1 pitch to medium left field to plate Larochelle.
“Coach told me to take a strike,” said Gray, “and then I knew I needed to put it in the outfield to get the run in and that’s what I did.”
The win avenged an 11-8 loss at Brewer earlier in the month, a game in which Bangor trailed by nine runs after six innings.
But there was a lesson to be absorbed from the final inning of that game, too.
“We look at that Brewer game as sort of a turning point in our season in a positive way,” said Larochelle. “We played a terrible six innings and were down 11-2, and we made it 11-8 at the end of the game. We fought hard in that last inning and scored six runs, and ever since then we’ve had faith that we can come back from any deficit.”
Lewis, a junior lefthander, earned the pitching win with 2¤ innings of scoreless relief, coming on for starter Kyle Savage with two outs in the fifth and striking out three batters while walking one.
“First of all I just try to throw strikes,” said Lewis, now 2-0 with two saves on the spring, “because I’ve got a great defense behind me and I love to just let them play. Coming in late in the game is fun for me.”
Bangor jumped out to a 4-1 lead through two innings.
Cody McInnis got the Rams started with a one-out triple to center in the first, and he scored when Larochelle grounded a single to center.
“I saw a lot of fastballs early in the count,” said Larochelle, who sprayed the ball around the field with two singles to left and one each to center and right. “I think that first at-bat I saw four or five pitches on the outside corner of the plate and he finally came inside on me and I was able to get my bat around it and just drive it back up the middle.”
Bangor then mounted a three-run second-inning rally that featured a two-run double by Lonnie Hackett and an RBI single by Larochelle.
But McEwen grew stronger on the mound and Brewer battled back, with Coby Hutchins singling home a run in the fourth and Matt Helfen’s RBI single capping off a game-tying two-run rally in the top of the fifth.
Andy Bush and Chase Daniels each singled twice to pace Brewer’s eight-hit attack.