Many American Legion baseball tournaments feature double-elimination formats.
But when the Bangor Comrades play their next game Saturday, there will be no such safety net.
Coach Dave Morris’ club, the Zone 1 tournament runner-up, will play Zone 5 (York County) runner-up Staples Crossing of South Berwick in a play-in game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Wainwright Complex in South Portland.
The winner will move on to the opening round of the double-elimination state tournament. The loser’s season will come to an end.
“The guys who were here last year are familiar with it, because we had to play Motor City in a play-in game [for the Zone 1 tournament],” said Morris. “But there’s no room for error, and I’m sure Staples Crossing looks at it the same way.”
This marks the second year of the current state tournament format. The state’s American Legion baseball world expanded to five zones in 2008, and officials initially used a 10-team, double-elimination set-up but found that to be too cumbersome.
So last year they reverted to an eight-team format, with the five zone champions earning automatic bids as well as one zone runner-up to be selected on a rotating basis.
Last year’s the Zone 1 tournament runner-up Hampden received a direct trip to the states, this year Zone 2 (central Maine) runner-up Augusta (17-6) advances to the state tournament. Next year, the Zone 3 (western Maine) runner-up will earn the automatic berth.
Five teams already have clinched berths in this year’s state tournament, which begins Wednesday and runs through Sunday, Aug. 1: Zone 1 tournament champion Brewer (15-5), Zone 2 winner Gardiner (16-6), Zone 3 champion Bessey Motors of South Paris (19-2), Zone 4 winner and two-time defending state champion Nova Seafood of Portland (17-3), Zone 5 winner Fayette-Staples of Saco (16-4), as well as Augusta.
Only one first-round matchup has already been determined for Wednesday, a 10 a.m. game at the Wainwright Complex between Nova Seafood and Bessey Motors.
Matchups for the other three games of the first day of the state tournament will be determined after the completion of the play-in games, as tourney officials don’t want to match up the champion and runner-up from the same zone in any opening-round game.
That leaves four zone runners-up to compete Saturday for the final two spots in this year’s state tournament.
The first play-in game, set for an 11 a.m. first pitch in South Portland, matches Zone 3 runner-up Gayton Post of Lewiston (18-3) against Zone 4 (Cumberland County) runner-up Libby-Mitchell of Scarborough (15-5).
That’s followed by the matchup between Bangor and Staples Crossing, both teams that won their respective zone regular-season championships before finishing second in their zone tournaments.
Bangor brings a 17-4 record into the play-in game, while Staples Crossing, which draws players from Marshwood High School of South Berwick and Traip Academy of Kittery, is 15-5 after losing to Fayette-Staples 14-3 in seven innings in Thursday night’s Zone 5 championship game at The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach.
“They’re very similar to us,” said Morris, who likely will start Zone 1 pitcher of the year Joe Stanevicz (6-2) on the mound in the play-in game. “They’ve got some very good pitchers and a couple of good players back from college, and they hit the ball well.”
Bangor will enter the contest not having played since the Zone 1 championship round against Brewer on Sunday, while the four other zones statewide didn’t complete their tournaments until Thursday.
For the Comrades that might be a good thing, since they played four games spanning 34 innings during a 26-hour span between 4 p.m. last Saturday and approximately 6 p.m. on Sunday.
“The guys were exhausted because we had played so many games in such a short period of time,” said Morris, who gave his team a couple of days off after the zone tournament.
“But by Wednesday they started to have their legs back. We had a good practice [Thursday] and hopefully we’ll go out and have another good practice [Friday] and then go down there ready to play.”