ELLSWORTH — The John Bapst High School Crusaders were about to squander a golden opportunity to take the lead in the fourth inning of their Eastern Maine Class B quarterfinal against Ellsworth Thursday afternoon.
They had already cut a 6-0 deficit to 6-5 and had two runners on and nobody out.
But a runner was cut down trying to steal and then reliever Thomas Sawyer registered a strikeout.
That’s when senior first baseman Adam Leadbetter delivered a two-run opposite-field double down the left-field line to give the sixth-seeded Crusaders a 7-6 victory over the third-seeded Eagles.
John Bapst, 11-6, will travel to take on No. 2 Bucksport (13-4) in Saturday’s 4 p.m. semifinal. Ellsworth wound up 12-5.
“I was just trying to make contact to get the run in from third. Getting the second runner in was just icing on the cake,” said Leadbetter, whose slicing liner rolled to the fence.
“[Sawyer] threw me a fastball on the outside corner and I was late on it and hit it the other way,” Leadbetter added.
“Adam has gotten a lot of clutch hits for us lately,” said JB coach Shane Graham.
The two fourth-inning runs were unearned.
Jason McBurnie opened the inning with a fly ball to left that was dropped for a three-base error when the left fielder stumbled.
Ryan Carr walked and, after he was thrown out at second trying to steal, Bill Wetherbee walked. After a strikeout, Leadbetter hit his double.
Junior righthander Chris Hammond made the runs stand up as he overcame a shaky start to toss five two-hit shutout innings and even his record at 4-4. He had allowed six runs in the first two innings.
“I just settled down and let my defense do the work,” said Hammond. “I knew I wasn’t overpowering out there. I figured if I kept the ball down and they’d put the ball in play, we’d make the plays.”
He also said he decided to ditch his knuckle curve in favor of his slider to serve as his off-speed pitch and “it worked well.”
“His location got better throughout the game,” said Ellsworth shortstop Brad Folmer, who went 2-for-2. “And he was getting ahead in the count. Once he got two strikes on us, we’d swing and ground out or pop up.”
The Crusaders turned a 4-6-3 double play after Hammond issued a leadoff walk in the third and that gave him a lift.
“That was huge. That changed the game,” said Hammond, who also benefited from a great running catch by center fielder Matt Storgaard in right-center field off Andrew Hodge with one out in the seventh to rob him of extra bases.
“I thought it was way over his head but he got a good jump on it,” said Hodge.
Ellsworth had just five baserunners after the second but Hammond held them to 1-for-7 hitting with men on base.
John Bapst began its comeback in the third inning off starter Andrew Hodge when McBurnie reached on an infield hit and Carr walked.
Wetherbee then pulled an RBI double to left field.
“It was a first-pitch fastball and I love those,” said Wetherbee.
Hammond’s fielder’s choice produced the second run and Leadbetter singled to left center to deliver the third run.
The final two runs scored on an infield throwing error with two outs.
“We didn’t make plays and they did a good job coming back,” said Ellsworth coach Dana Smith. “We didn’t play well enough to win.”
Ellsworth had built its 6-0 lead with two first-inning runs and four more in the second.
Folmer was hit by a pitch to open the first and he scored on an infield throwing error before Ross Saunders delivered the second run with a sacrifice fly.
In the second, Dakota Jewett, Folmer and Saunders had run-scoring singles and the last run scored on a catcher’s throwing error.
Leadbetter and Wetherbee had two hits each for John Bapst while Folmer had his two hits and three stolen bases to pace Ellsworth.
Sawyer pitched four innings of impressive one-hit relief for the Eagles.