BANGOR, Maine — Alex Wheelock of Gardiner High School said he jogged easily to first base after he hit a fly ball to center field with two outs and the bases loaded in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s Eastern Maine Class B championship game against Waterville at Mansfield Stadium.
“I thought it was just an easy fly ball and he [Waterville center fielder Mark Beckim] had a bead on it,” said Wheelock, a senior catcher for the Tigers.
But Beckim lost the ball in the bright sun and it dropped for a bases-clearing single as defending state champion and top-seeded Gardiner rallied from a three-run deficit to beat third seed Waterville 9-6.
Gardiner, 17-2, faces Greely of Cumberland Center in Saturday’s State Class B final at 5 p.m. at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish. Waterville finished up at 16-4.
“The sun helped,” said a thankful Wheelock.
“If you put the ball in play, things like that happen,” said Gardiner senior first baseman Nick Maschino.
Wheelock’s good fortune came during a game with a lot of strange happenings.
“It was a very odd game,” said Wheelock.
Gardiner’s decisive four-run, fourth-inning rally that produced a 7-6 lead was initiated by Tony Plourde’s infield single: a ball that was heading for the glove of first baseman J.T. Whitten before taking a bad hop to Whitten’s right.
Mike Phelps drew a one-out walk and Chris Howe laid down a perfect bunt for a base hit.
A walk to Forrest Chadwick forced in a run and the Tigers caught a break when Phelps broke for the plate on a potential wild pitch, saw he was going to be out by plenty and was able to escape a botched rundown and scramble his way back to third.
Wheelock then hit his fly ball to center.
The Tigers added two insurance runs in the sixth.
A two-out single by Maschino and a hit batsman chased starter Tim Locke in favor of freshman Whitten.
A late throw to second on a fielder’s choice grounder enabled the inning to continue and a pair of bases-loaded walks produced the runs.
Gardiner took a 3-0 lead in the first inning on three walks, RBI singles by Wheelock and Spencer Allen, and a run-producing wild pitch.
Waterville responded with six unanswered runs.
In the third, Waterville scored four runs on two walks, a bunt single by Cam Sawyer, Josh Gaudette’s sacrifice fly and a three-run double by Whitten on a ball that appeared catchable, but sliced away from right fielder Allen.
Waterville scored two more in the fourth on a walk, winning pitcher Chadwick’s three-base throwing error and Gaudette’s two-out RBI infield single.
“The key was we never gave up after we fell behind,” said Maschino.
Chadwick finished with an eight-hitter with six strikeouts and four walks. He threw 79 strikes among 120 pitches.
“Once we got the lead, I wasn’t coming out,” said Chadwick, who admitted he lost a little off his fastball in the late innings. “It’s a win but I should have pitched better. I had trouble with my control. But we did a good job staying in the game, not losing our heads and battling back.”
“[Chadwick] was pretty quick,” said Waterville pitcher Locke, who pitched much better than the score indicated.
“I loved the way our kids hit the ball. And we played great defense. But those two plays [Wheelock’s three-run lost-in-the-sun single and Plourde’s bad-hop single to first] hurt us,” said Waterville coach Don Sawyer, who will graduate just one player. “And Gardiner made the plays.”
Wheelock and Waterville’s Whitten and Kris Huggins had two hits apiece.