BANGOR — Jesse McNally and Chris Cloukey provided an example Wednesday afternoon of the teamwork and chemistry that have made Katahdin High School of Stacyville a regional baseball power this season.
Cloukey and McNally opened the Eastern Maine Class D championship game by singing “The Star Spangled Banner” in the middle of the Mansfield Stadium diamond.
With the game on the line in the ninth inning, the two again took center stage.
McNally hit a leadoff single and Cloukey was the pinch runner who later scored the decisive run as top-seeded Katahdin eked out a 2-1 victory over No. 7 Bangor Christian.
So, which situation was more nerve-wracking for McNally?
“To be up at bat in the bottom of the ninth,” said the junior third baseman, who praised Cloukey for his efforts.
“He took off on the crack of the bat, just like he needed to, and it worked out right,” McNally added.
Coach Martin McCarthy’s Cougars (14-3) advance to take on Western Maine winner Greenville (14-2) in Saturday’s noon state championship game at Mahaney Diamond in Standish.
Katahdin won the regional title in 2008, when this year’s seniors were freshmen.
“I love it,” said senior outfielder Kolby Gallagher, who singled twice and stole two bases. “That was our turn to watch, now’s our turn to play.”
Seventh-seeded Bangor Christian, coached by Mike Poulin, finishes its season at 10-9.
Brandon Robinson set the tone on the mound for Katahdin, limiting the Patriots to two hits in nine innings. The senior righthander struck out 13, walked two and hit one batter.
Robinson, who shut out Bangor Christian on two hits on May 27, threw 112 pitches, 74 for strikes.
“That was a lot longer than I was hoping for, but I couldn’t ask for a better Eastern Maine game,” Robinson said. “We just beat a really good team.”
He surrendered a run in the first inning after a leadoff walk, but allowed only two runners to reach second base the rest of the way.
Katahdin scratched out only six hits against Bangor Christian’s Tyler Alexander, who had no-hit the Cougars in Bangor on May 19. The junior righthander struck out nine and hit a batter, but tired a bit in the late innings.
“I’ve never pitched that long in a game in my life,” said Alexander, who threw 119 pitches, including 86 for strikes. “About the sixth inning, I was getting tired.”
Katahdin, which had left runners in scoring position in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, finally broke through in the ninth.
McNally hit a hard single past the bag at third and stole second on the next pitch.
“Coming into the Eastern Maine game — we got here for a reason — you’ve got to go up with the idea that you’re going to hit the ball hard,” McNally said.
He was lifted in favor of pinch runner Cloukey with a 2-1 count to Robinson. Cloukey reached third on an errant pickoff throw by Alexander, then beat the throw to the plate when Robinson hit a ground ball to second base.
“There was one kid in the dugout that kept saying, ‘I can smell it (a rally),’ and we all could,” Robinson said. “We knew we had a couple hits left in us to win it.”
The Cougars, who went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, maintained an upbeat approach throughout.
“That was fun to coach and be involved in. It was awesome,” said McCarthy, who pointed out one big key for the team.
“Their togetherness,” he said. “They always come up for each other. Nobody gets too down if somebody does something wrong.”
The Patriots jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first. Brad Wilcox walked, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on Alexander’s sacrifice fly to center field.
Bangor Christian would manage only singles by Cody Collins and Andrew Harvey after that against Robinson.
“He throws hard and then he switches it up with a curve/slider,” Alexander said. “He’s about the best pitcher we’ve faced all season.”
The Patriots’ had a runner at second base in the seventh and eighth innings, but couldn’t come up with a clutch hit.
“We had guys on second base, in scoring position,” Poulin said. “We scrapped a couple of guys up to get that opportunity, but we just couldn’t get that extra hit or something through the hole.”
Katahdin tied the contest in the third when senior Mickey Savage stroked a single to left and stole second. He took third on a passed ball and came in to score when the throw from the catcher got past the third baseman.