The good news for the American Legion Zone 1 baseball brethren is that it will field two teams in today’s opening round of the newly revised state Legion tournament at the Capital Area Recreation Association fields in Augusta.
The 11-team Zone 1 is the only one of five zones statewide to advance both its champion and runner-up straight to the states this year under a new format that sends just eight teams to the five-day, double-elimination event scheduled to continue through Sunday.
Last year, 10 teams — the champion and runner-up from each zone — participated in the state tournament, but tourney officials found the format too onerous and reverted to an eight-team field this year, with runners-up from the other four zones participating in play-in games Saturday to move on to Augusta.
Zone 1 will send both its champion, Bangor, and runner-up Hampden to this years states under a rotating system that gives a bye to one of the five runners-up each year. Zone 2 (Central Maine) will get the bye next year.
Perhaps the more challenging news for Bangor and Hampden as they begin state tournament play rests with their first-round opponents, as both are matched against zone champions.
Bangor (19-5) opens the tournament on McGuire Field at 10 a.m. against Advanced Tech of Biddeford, 16-4 after winning its first Zone 5 (York County) championship last week.
Hampden (17-7) faces defending state champion Nova Seafood of Portland (17-3) at 4 p.m. on Morton Field. Nova Seafood, the Zone 4 (Cumberland County) champion features players from the 2009 Class A high school state championship team from Deering High School in Portland.
Both Bangor and Hampden enter the state tournament riding hot streaks.
Bangor has won its last nine games, including four straight during last weekend’s Zone 1 tourney.
Coach Fred Lower’s club also has four players who played in the 2007 AL state championship game in pitcher-first baseman Ian Edwards, second baseman Chad Kelley, third baseman Shane Walton and middle infielder John Cox.
Edwards (.415, 5HR, 29 RBI) and Walton (.455, 20 RBI, 16 SB) anchor this year’s Bangor offense, while the double-play combination of Kelley and shortstop Cody McInnis has been pivotal to the success of a pitching staff that includes veterans Edwards, Kyle Savage and Jordan Clarke.
The Comrades are seeking their first state championship since 1979.
Hampden, 1-2 at the state tournament last summer after winning its first Zone 1 championship, won 10 of its final 12 regular-season games this year before going 2-2 in the zone tournament with wins over Steamboat Petroleum of Waldo County and Brewer and two losses (13-9 and 11-8) to Bangor.
Coach Jason Folsom’s Riverdogs feature a strong 1-2 pitching punch in lefthander Brennan Perry (4-1, 2.02 ERA) and righthander Shawn Smith (4-0, 2.60 ERA), who threw a complete-game eight-hitter in a 10-6 victory over top-seeded Brewer in the elimination game of the Zone 1 tournament that secured Hampden’s berth in the states.
Smith also has been a focal point of Hampden’s offense, along with first baseman Josh Tardiff (.386, 20 RBI), second baseman Nolan Turner (.362, 17 RBI, 11 stolen bases) and shortstop Cody Johndro (.349, 20 RBI, 11SB).
The Hampden-Nova Seafood clash is a rematch of a Day 2 game at last year’s state tournament when Nova Seafood earned an 11-3 win to hand the Riverdogs their first loss.
Other first-day matchups in the 2009 state tourney have Zone 3 champion Smith-Tobey of Bath (14-6) against Zone 2 runner-up Waterville (13-8) at 1 p.m. and Zone 2 champion Gardiner (13-5) against Zone 5 runner-up Kennebunk (13-7) at 4:30 p.m.
Both of those games will be played on McGuire Field as the result of a slight schedule change due to wet conditions on Morton Field, according to Zone 1 comissionier David Paul.
Tourney officials are hopeful Morton Field will be dried sufficiently for the Hampden-Nova Seafood game to be played there as scheduled.
Zone 4 teams have won the state championship 11 of the last 12 years, the only exception being Zone 2 Monmouth’s 2007 title.
Zone 1 is seeking its first state championship since Brewer won back-to-back titles in 1996 and 1997.
The winner of the state tournament advances to the Northeast regional to be held Aug. 6-10 at Manchester, N.H.
The nationals are Aug. 14-18 at Fargo, N.D.