BANGOR — Christian Corneil has bittersweet memories of the 2009 Senior League World Series.
“I actually had a really bad World Series last year,” said Corneil, who went hitless in four games for the 2009 Bangor Senior League All-Stars. “The nerves were hitting me really bad, but we still battled against those teams.”
Bangor went 1-3 a year ago, but extra-inning losses in its final two games of pool play — including a 7-6 loss in eight innings to the Niles Little League of Fremont, Calif., the eventual 2009 SLWS runner-up — left the 10 players eligible to return to the Senior League level this summer thinking they could be even better representatives of Maine District 3 in 2010 if they earned the chance.
They couldn’t have been more correct.
With a host-team best 4-1 record in this year’s World Series — including Friday’s 9-3 semifinal upset of Manhattan Beach, Calif., — Bangor has earned the chance to play for the SLWS championship at noon today against San Nicolas, Aruba.
“We came back this year with a grudge, actually,” said Bangor shortstop Nic Cota. “We came back with the attitude that we were going to make history, which was to win more than one game in the Senior League World Series, and we did that. We came back after that and we wanted to make more history, and we won more games.
“Last year definitely helped us a lot because we stood up with those teams, and I think we have a better team this year than we did last year.”
And now, thanks in part to collaboration among the city’s high school, Senior League and American Legion baseball programs, Bangor suddenly — and stunningly — finds itself on the brink of a dream come true.
Much of the 16-player roster was part of the Bangor High School varsity team that went undefeated during the regular season and advanced to the Eastern Maine Class A semifinals.
And 10 members of the roster not only helped Bangor win the Maine District 3 Senior League crown this summer, they also helped Bangor’s American Legion team win the Zone 1 regular-season crown and advance to the state tournament.
“Legion and Senior League here are dovetailing their schedules and working together,” said Bangor Senior League All-Stars manager Ron St. Pierre, “and what you see now is the result of taking care of Bangor baseball, not worrying about one program but worrying about all the kids.”
The combined experiences have proven invaluable for the 15- and 16-year-old Bangor Senior Leaguers — including Corneil, who is 5-for-15 in this year’s SLWS with seven runs scored and five RBIs.
“In Legion we see 18- and 19-year-old kids throwing 85 (mph) and unhittable breaking balls,” said Corneil. “Then we come into the Senior League tournament and it’s just different, I think our American Legion experience has helped us so much.”
Anthony Capuano, the team’s first baseman and cleanup hitter for the Senior League team, is another player who credits his American Legion experience for success in the World Series.
Capuano, who played on the Bangor High junior varsity last spring, batted over .400 in American Legion play this summer and is 7-for-14 with nine RBIs in SLWS play — including a three-run homer in the fifth inning against Manhattan Beach that gave Bangor the lead for good.
“[Bangor American Legion coach] Dave Morris gave me a great opportunity to get better over the summer,” said Capuano. “He started me at first base and I saw some of the best pitching around from the older kids in Legion. It helped me so much with this, it’s been great.”
That development hasn’t been confined to the batter’s box, as righthander Jesse Wood and lefty Curtis Worcester, who also saw double duty in Legion and Senior League this summer, have accounted for all four of Bangor’s pitching wins in the Senior League World Series.
In 21¤ innings of SLWS duty, Wood and Worcester have combined to scatter 16 hits and six earned runs (1.97 earned run average) while striking out 22 batters and walking just four.
“It’s been great because the level of play that we faced, not just during the [Legion] regular season but also at the zone and state tournaments, was unbelievable,” said Worcester. “I know for my part as a pitcher it helped me so much in terms of realizing that location is the biggest part of pitching, it’s not just about speed.
“It’s crazy how much the little things you learn help.”
Worcester, Wood and the rest of the Bangor Senior League pitching staff also has been aided by the development of catcher Dylan Morris, who started for the Bangor High varsity during the spring and at the American Legion level under his father this summer.
“Dylan called a great game today like always,” said Worcester after allowing three runs on six hits in the semifinal victory over Manhattan Beach. “I trust him. I’ve never shaken Dylan off, I throw what he tells me.”
The ultimate result of the varied experiences of the players on this summer’s Bangor Senior League all-star team, and the improvement that has resulted, is that they have still one more game to play.
“Every game you play makes a difference, it doesn’t matter what level it’s at,” said St. Pierre. “The boys got a chance to play quite a few games this summer, and that always helps, and even the ones who didn’t play Legion showed up at just about every game during the regular season for us, and that made a big difference, too.
“The more everybody played, the better they got.”