AUGUSTA — The ghosts of playoffs past have finally been put to rest by the Bangor softball team.
But the Rams had to turn to some dramatics to win the first Eastern Maine Class A championship in program history Tuesday night.
After Skowhegan rallied to tie it in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Rams showed unshakable confidence, scoring twice in the top of the eighth while Sam Bedore struck out the side in the bottom half as Bangor scratched out a 4-2 victory before a standing-room crowd at Cony Family Field.
Bangor (18-1) advances to Saturday’s Class A state final in Standish against South Portland while Skowhegan finishes 17-2.
Bangor had previously played for two EM titles, losing to Medomak Valley in 1999 and Brewer in 2008.
The Rams were one out away in the bottom of the seventh before a Whitney Jones single and Sam Gray double helped the defending regional champion Indians tie it, but coach Don Stanhope’s club has battled adversity all season, and kept the enthusiasm up.
“We never let up, we kept the intensity, we had the fire, we had the energy and basically we knew we were going to win,” said senior shortstop Mariah Cassum, who singled and scored in that frame.
Classmate and outfielder Kate Freudenberger worked a five-pitch walk — the only one issued by Indians’ righthander Becca McCarty all night — went to second on Cassum’s base hit to left, and after a groundout to third, the Rams had runners on second and third.
Hannah Lust then hit a grounder to the right side, and Freudenberger scampered toward the plate, leaping over Skowhegan catcher Sam Gray to beat out a close play and catching the base with her foot.
“Coach told me that Hannah was up and on a ground ball I was running on anything,“ Freudenberger said. “Hannah crushed that hit out, it was an amazing hit and I just ran.”
Freudenberger wasn’t taking any chances, however, going back and touching the dish for insurance.
“I saw that she was going to block the plate, and as I jumped I hit the back side of the plate with my foot, and I went back to tag it just in case,” she explained.
Bedore then reached on an error, allowing Cassum to score an insurance run, and the Rams’ ace worked around a leadoff walk in the bottom of the eighth, striking out the side to set off a wild celebration that was certainly felt back in the Queen City. “It feels amazing, I mean we’re going to a state championship, that’s what we’ve worked so hard for all year,” said Bedore, who compiled 14 strikeouts on the night.
She also did her best Houdini impression in the fourth, as two walks and an error loaded the bases for the Indians with nobody out.
But grounders to Megan Doucette at second, Bedore and Kim Jordan at third got the Rams out of that inning unscathed.
The Rams jumped out on top in the fourth on Bedore’s RBI single up the middle, and a Sadie Redman homer to left-center in the sixth gave Bangor a 2-0 lead.
But it was only a matter of time before Skowhegan’s offense would get going, and McCarty ripped a one-out double in the sixth and courtesy runner Lyndsi Merrill came home on a Makayla Hancock single up the middle.
Coach Lee Johnson’s club kept battling in the seventh, as Jones lined a sharp single up the middle with two down, and Gray ripped a double to left-center that just missed Cassum’s glove at short.
But once again, Bedore hung tough, striking out Anna Lorrette to force extra innings.
“They showed a lot of heart right there, they battled back,” Johnson said. “We had the winning run at second base, we just couldn’t come up with that clutch hit that we needed.”
With a group of seniors that has been on the precipice of this kind of success for three years — Bangor lost to Brewer in the 2008 regional final and to Skowhegan in the semifinals last spring — this group of Rams had a lot of fire in their bellies, and it showed after the Indians fought back.
“We came in here knowing it wasn’t going to be a blowout, it would be a 2-1, 4-2 game, so we knew we had to stay up,” Bedore said.
Bedore certainly has plenty of individual accolades to speak of, including this year’s Gatorade Player of the Year award, but all she and her teammates had been missing was a team accomplishment.
“There are no words to describe it, I’ve never felt anything like it before,” Cassum said.
Redman continued her torrid postseason hitting with two hits on the night and two runs while Lust had an RBI.
Skowhegan wound up stranding 10 runners on the night.