BANGOR, Maine — Postseason play in American Legion baseball — with its nine-inning games every day — is in great measure a test of pitching depth for the survivors.
The Bangor Comrades have found such depth within their youth, and because of it coach Fred Lower’s club became the first team from Zone 1 to qualify for this year’s state tournament Sunday.
Lefthander Joe Stanevicz allowed just one run in 4¤ innings of relief before Curtis Worcester retired six of the seven batters he faced to preserve Bangor’s 10-4 victory over top-seeded Brewer in a winner’s bracket game of the double-elimination tournament at the Winkin Baseball Complex.
“They’re throwing strikes and they’re attacking the batters and letting the defense play, which is good for us,” said Lower. “It’s huge that they can come in and pitch on this stage against a team of Brewer’s caliber and get that under belt now going into the state tournament.”
Defending zone champion Hampden earned the other berth Zone 1 berth to the state tournament that begins in Augusta on Wednesday. The second-rated Broncos used the complete-game pitching of Shawn Smith and a five-run rally in the eighth inning to eliminate Brewer 10-6.
Bangor (18-5) and Hampden (17-6) played in a championship-round game Sunday night, with Bangor needing just one win to clinch the zone championship and Hampden needing two more wins.
Stanevicz, a junior at Bangor High School this fall, earned his second win of the postseason in Sunday’s opener. Worcester, who will be just a sophomore, picked up his second save — and both said they benefited from their experience in Thursday’s play-in round, when they combined for a 14-6 win over Motor City of Bangor.
“I felt like I threw better today than in the last game,” said Stanevicz. “My arm felt better, and I was more calm on the mound. Pitching in a big tournament like this I kind of got all the nerves out of me in the first game, and I came back today and I was all set to go.”
Bangor managed just four hits in picking up its eighth consecutive victory and avenging two regular-season losses to Brewer, but the Comrades capitalized on some temporary wildness by Falcons’ starter Pat McEwen to take the lead for good with five runs in the top of the fourth.
Brewer had a 3-0 lead with two out and a runner on first in the Bangor fourth, but three straight walks and a wild pitch forced home two runs, and Lonnie Hackett then grounded a two-run single up the middle to give the Comrades a 4-3 lead.
Cody McInnis followed with an RBI single to center to give Bangor a two-run lead.
Bangor padded its lead with four runs in the eighth, a rally that included two Brewer errors and also featured a successful suicide squeeze by Devin Lyshon and an RBI single by Dylan Morris.
Brewer took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Caleb Smith lined a one-out triple off the right-field fence and scored on a single up the middle by Eric White.
Bangor starter Kyle Savage escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second when McInnis turned a 6-3 double play and first baseman Ian Edwards was just able to keep his foot on the bag after a wide throw.
But Savage, who walked two batters in the second, continued to experience wildness in the third, as he walked three batters and yielded two more runs before Lower turned to his youngsters.
“He just told me to out there and throw strikes and let the defense play, and I owe it all to them because they played a great game,” said Stanevicz.
Stanevicz yielded just two hits before giving way to Worcester after walking the first two batters he faced in the eighth.
In the second game, Smith scattered eight hits while striking out four, walking five and hitting two batters.
Perhaps most importantly, he never allowed Brewer a big inning, which enabled his team’s offense to mount one big rally.
“I wanted to work low and let my defense do most of the work and they did a good job and got me out of some jams, so I’m thankful for that,” said Smith.
The Riverdogs’ decisive rally came after Brewer scored once in the bottom of the seventh to take a 6-5 lead.
Hampden countered by sending nine batters to the plate against Brewer reliever Eric White, with Josh Tardiff hitting a two-run single, Smith plating a run with a fielder’s choice and two runs scoring on an infield throwing error.
Brennan Perry and Nolan Turner paced Hampden’s 10-hit attack with three singles, while Smith and Tardiff each had three RBIs.
Caleb Smith had three singles and scored three runs for Brewer, while White singled twice and drove home two runs.
Hampden took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Turner reached on an infield hit and later scored on a groundout by Shawn Smith.
But Brewer took the lead in the bottom of the inning on a two-run single by White, then padded its lead in the third when Caleb Smith singled to center and scored on an outfield error.
Hampden rallied in the sixth on an infield hit by Smith, a walk to Tardiff, and RBI single by Derek Amoroso and a double-steal that plated Tardiff with the tying run.
Brewer regained the lead in the bottom of the inning. Steve Klenowski drew a leadoff walk, went to second on a sacrifice by Higgins and scored on an infield throwing error that enabled Andy Bush to reach third. Tyler French then grounded a two-out RBI single up the middle to give the Falcons a 5-3 cushion.
A bases-loaded walk to Smith and a sacrifice fly by Tardiff enabled Hampden to tie the game again at 5-5 in the top of the seventh, but Daniels countered with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning to restore the Falcons to a one-run edge.
Bangor (18-5) 000 500 041 — 10 4 0
Brewer (16-6) 102 000 010 — 4 6 4
Savage, Stanevicz (3), Worcester (8) and Morris; McEwen, French (8) and Bush
Hampden (17-6) 100 002 250 — 10 10 2
Brewer (16-7) 201 002 100 — 6 8 3
Smith and Miller; Higgins, Daniels (7), White (8) and Bush