ROCKLAND — The Old Town baseball team’s storybook run continued Tuesday at the expense of a storybook ending for Rockland District High School.
Senior righthander Casey Estes struck his way out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the bottom of the fifth inning, then his teammates converted a similar scenario into a five-run sixth-inning rally that lifted the ninth-seeded Coyotes to a 9-3 victory over No. 8 Rockland in an Eastern B baseball prelim at Morrill Field.
The win was the eighth straight for 12-5 Old Town, which needed all of those victories just to qualify for postseason play.
“We’ve been playing every game the last two weeks like it’s our last game because if we don’t win it is our last game,” said Estes, whose team advances to a quarterfinal Thursday at top-ranked and defending state champion Waterville. “Even during the regular season if we didn’t win one of those games we would have been done. I’m just so proud of my team right now.”
The game also marked the final varsity contest in any sport for 10-7 Rockland, which will merge with Georges Valley of Thomaston to form Oceanside High School this fall.
“Knowing there’s no more baseball here for Rockland, that it’s come to an end, it’s pretty emotional,” said Rockland coach and alumnus Joe Nelsen. “When you see the captains and the other kids and some of the tears that were coming through, you feel for them.
“But this has been an unbelievable year and I think we represented our school well.”
This game had its share of rarely seen moments, particularly with Old Town clinging to a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Rockland’s Justin Snow drew a leadoff walk and starting pitcher Luke Morrill then one-hopped a ground-rule double over the center-field fence.
Old Town coach Dave Utterback then opted to intentionally walk Joey Nelsen — the coach’s son — to load the bases with no one out, and Estes made the gamble work by striking out the next three batters — all looking.
“We just felt our chances were better against anybody but Morrill or Nelsen,” said Utterback. “We had a scouting report that said they were the heart and soul of their team, so we were going to take our chances. There was no room for error, but we felt good with how Casey was pounding the strike zone.”
Estes went to 3-1 counts on two of those batters before coming back by working the outside corner of the plate to cap off a scenario he had experienced before.
“Actually I have, last year in Legion,” Estes said, “but it was more nerve-wracking here because I really wanted to get out of that inning. I just buckled down and put it together.”
The momentum shift caused by Old Town’s great escape and Rockland’s lost opportunity was immediately evident.
Old Town loaded the bases on a single up the middle by Cameron Archer, a bunt single by David Wilcox and a walk to Lucas Baillargeon.
Old Town then tried a suicide squeeze with Andrew Richardson at the plate, but the pitch sailed wide and Archer scored the tying run.
Pinch-runner Kyle Abbott then scored on a wild pitch and Richardson walked before Shane Nadeau greeted reliever Billy Joyce with a first-pitch suicide squeeze that produced two more runs after an errant Rockland throw.
“We work on bunting and double steals quite a bit,” said Utterback, “and I’m glad the personnel is able to execute because we’ve put those plays on all year and haven’t messed up yet.”
Dan Gastia followed with a sacrifice fly to drive home Nadeau with the final run of the uprising to give Old Town a 7-1 cushion.
“We had an opportunity to break the game open with the bases loaded and no one out, but we had three strikeouts with the bats on our shoulders,” said coach Nelsen. “It seemed like that gave them all the emotion in the world.”
Estes struck out 11 batters and walked five — two intentionally — while scattering seven hits, and he was backed by an errorless defense starring third baseman Gabe Melmed, who took away two Rockland hits with diving stops, one to each side.
“I was just focused on throwing strikes,” Estes said. “I knew if I threw to the strike zone and they hit it that my defense would play well behind me. That’s what they’ve been doing all year, they’re so fundamentally sound back there.”
Baillargeon had three RBIs for Old Town, including a two-run double to left in the fourth inning.
The University of Maine-bound Morrill tripled, doubled and scored two runs for Rockland.