One of the state’s oldest baseball tournaments will be held at one of its newer locations beginning today when the 78th Maine American Legion Baseball Tournament is held at the Wainwright Complex in South Portland.
Zone 1 tournament champion Brewer and runner-up Bangor will represent northern Maine in a five-day, eight-team tournament that was first held in 1928, when Alfred Post 134 was crowned as the first state champion.
Bangor, 18-4 after defeating Zone 5 runner-up Staples Crossing of South Berwick in Saturday’s play-in game, will face Zone 2 champion Gardiner (16-6) at 11 a.m. today in one of four first-round games.
Brewer, 15-5, which earned a direct trip to the states by winning the Zone 1 tournament, will play Zone 2 champion Augusta (17-6) at 4 p.m.
Other first-round matchups have two-time defending state champion Nova Seafood of Portland (17-3), the Zone 4 winner, against Zone 3 champion Bessey Motors of South Paris (19-2) at 10 a.m. and Zone 5 champion Fayette-Staples of Saco (16-4) against Zone 3 runner-up Gayton Post of Lewiston (18-3) at 2 p.m.
The event has been held every year since 1928 — save for the World War II years of 1942 through 1945. Most of the state tournaments were held on the U.S. Veterans Administration Hospital campus in Togus until 1993, and since then they have been held at various locations throughout the state based primarily on a rotation among the zones.
The Wainwright Complex, a 150-acre former farm that was donated to the city of South Portland and converted into a variety of recreational facilities, will host the entire tournament on its two baseball fields for the first time after playing host to the late rounds of the event last year when wet conditions forced a move from its original site in Augusta.
Brewer will make its first appearance in the state tournament since 2007, when the Falcons capped off a run of three straight trips to the states.
Coach Chris Morris’ club used its pitching depth to emerge as the Zone 1 champion after finishing second behind Bangor in the regular-season standings.
Righthanders Pat McEwen (3-0), Kyle McLain (5-1) and Tyler French (3-0) all picked up wins during the zone tournament, while Chase Daniels (3-1) earned a save and also pitched into ninth inning of his lone tournament start.
Leading hitters for the Falcons include Zone 1 player of the year Eric White, Daniels, McLain and catcher Jordan Richards.
Bangor’s pitching staff is led by Zone 1 pitcher of the year Joe Stanevicz, a lefthander who improved his record to 7-2 with a four-hitter in the Comrades’ 12-1, eight-inning play-in victory over Staples Crossing.
Other key pitchers for coach Dave Morris’ Comrades include lefthanders Nate Lewis (3-1) and Curtis Worcester (4-0) and righthander Jesse Wood (3-1).
Pacing the Bangor offense are Stanevicz, catcher Dylan Morris, third baseman Devin Lyshon, shortstop Cody McInnis, outfielders Jordan Clarke and Josiah Hartley and first baseman Anthony Capuano.
Bangor and Brewer will seek to become the first Zone 1 team to win the state title since Brewer won back-to-back crowns in 1996 and 1997. Brewer also won state championships in 1941, 1946 and 1989.
Bangor last won an American Legion state title in 1979, with other championships coming in 1930, 1940 and 1966.
Both teams have been competitive at the state tourney in recent years, with Bangor the state runner-up in 2007, Brewer finishing second in 2006 and Bangor placing third in 2005.
Bangor is one of three teams back in this year’s tournament from last year’s field, along with Gardiner and Nova Seafood.
Nova Seafood, made up primarily of players from Portland’s Deering High School, has been the dominant team of the tournament in recent years, winning six of the last nine state titles as well as the 2004 American Legion national championship.
Nova’s game against Bessey Motors today figures to be the top matchup of this year’s opening round, as Bessey Motors is in most part the Oxford Hills High School team that won the 2010 Class A state championship behind the state’s reigning Mr. Baseball, catcher Matt Verrier.
The winner of this year’s state tournament advances to the Northeast Regional to be held Aug. 5-9 at Middletown, Conn.