BANGOR — Defense is often an overlooked part of baseball success, but it will be at the forefront of Bangor High School’s quest for a Class A championship during the next week.
And defense proved pivotal as the Rams’ survived their first postseason test Friday, with second-seeded Bangor turning three double plays and capitalizing on a double play Erskine Academy couldn’t turn to edge the seventh-ranked Eagles 5-3 in an Eastern Maine quarterfinal at Mansfield Stadium.
“Offensively we’ve struggled for a while,” said Bangor coach Jeff Fahey, whose team will host No. 6 Edward Little of Auburn in a semifinal at noon Saturday. “But really all year long we’ve played good defense. The kids are smart and they have some baseball savvy. When you start eight seniors you expect that.”
Yet it was a sophomore — first baseman Anthony Capuano — who keyed Bangor’s most important defensive play of the day.
Tom Grady had hit a two-run double to give Erskine a 2-1 lead with one out in the third inning and the Eagles still had runners on second and third when Ryan Pulver hit a grounder to Capuano. Capuano looked Erskine’s Sean Cabaniss back toward third base, then tagged out Pulver along the first-base line before spotting Grady between second and third and quickly throwing the ball to shortstop Nic Cota, who tagged out the sliding Grady at second base.
“The biggest thing for me is knowing what to do with the ball before it is hit,” said Capuano. “I fielded it like any other ground ball and checked [Cabaniss] back, and when I looked [Grady] was almost at third so I tagged [Pulver] out and then I had so much time I threw it kind of soft to second and almost threw it away, but I’m glad Cota was there.”
Bangor (14-3) turned the momentum gained from that double play into instant offense, scoring four runs in the bottom of the third to take the lead for good.
Capuano singled to center and hustled to third base on a one-out single by pitcher Joe Stanevicz. Jacques Larochelle then hit a potential double-play grounder to shortstop, but Pulver was unable to field the ball as Capuano scored the tying run and Stanevicz advanced to second.
Cota singled to center to load the bases before Seth Freudenberger was hit by a Shyler Scates pitch to force home a run. Larochelle scored on a wild pitch before Cota scored to make it 5-2 on a Jack Stacey groundout.
Erskine (9-8) mounted a final threat in the seventh.
Caleb Bragg-Grady singled and Jory Humphrey walked, marking the end of Stanevicz’s day on the mound. Luke Hettermann came on in relief for the Rams, and Erskine’s Brenden Wood reached on in infield hit along the third-base line to load the bases.
Bragg-Grady scored on a wild pitch to cut Erskine’s deficit to two runs, then Hettermann struck out John Suga and Matt White and walked Cabaniss to re-load the bases before ending the game by getting Grady to pop out to him.
“Coach told me if Joe got in trouble in the seventh he’d come to me,” said Hettermann, who earned his first save of the spring. “I was ready to go.”
Stanevicz (7-1) allowed three earned runs on four hits with three strikeouts, four walks and a hit batsman over six-plus innings.
Scates pitched a complete game for Erskine, yielding three earned runs on 10 hits with two strikeouts, two walks and a hit batsman.
Bangor took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Hettermann tripled to left-center and scored when Adam King pulled a single to right.
“He threw me a first-pitch curveball and I figured he wouldn’t come with it again,” said Hettermann. “I figured the fastball would come, and he gave me one belt high, and I turned on it and got it into the gap.”