BANGOR, Maine — Three weeks ago, the Hampden Academy baseball team was searching for answers. The Broncos had just suffered a mind-boggling loss to Messalonskee and were clinging to a low playoff seed.
Hampden coach McLean Poulin sat his team down after the loss for a lengthy meeting in search of answers. While the players were puzzled, Poulin knew the root of the problem.
“It’s all focus,” Poulin said to his team. “I told them we need to bring the focus for two straight hours for practices and games and if you bring that to practice, it will carry over into games.”
The Broncos ended up with the eighth seed in Class A and won their first playoff game Tuesday, which set the stage for a quarterfinal matchup with top-seeded Bangor at Mansfield Stadium Thursday.
The confused team from three weeks ago was replaced by a confident and fearless Bronco squad that knocked off Bangor 3-2 in 11 innings.
Senior Fred Knight defined the Broncos’ attitude as he crushed a solo home-run to snap a 1-1 tie in the 11th. The Broncos tacked on an insurance run after two Bangor throwing errors brought home Matt Martin.
In the bottom half of the inning, Martin, who came on in the ninth for Palmer, balked to bring in Cody Savage from third to make it a 3-2 game. Martin buckled down to strike out the final batter and seal the victory for the Broncos.
The game stayed tied 1-1 through the first seven innings, with starters Curtis Worcester and Matt Palmer going pitch for pitch with one another.
Worcester gave up his first run in the third when Palmer ripped an RBI double down the line in left for the 1-0 lead, but Worcester threw seven scoreless innings after that. The Rams lefty went 10 innings and struck out nine to keep his team in the hunt.
Palmer gave up the tying run in the bottom half of the fourth on an RBI double by Hunter Boyce to make it 1-1. Palmer then contained the Rams offense with four scoreless innings.
Palmer, throwing eight innings and striking out 12, focused on his outing and not the duel with Worcester.
“I just tried to stay with my stuff and not try to match him,” said Palmer. “I tried to attack with my fastball and limit the walks.”
Palmer was able to stick to his game plan, but also had the support of his defense. The Broncos turned a rally-killing double play to strand two runners in the sixth.
The Rams chose to change pitchers in the 11th with Worcester’s pitch count rising, turning to Greg Duff. Knight took advantage of the new look, launching the second pitch over the fence in left-center and giving the Broncos the 2-1 advantage.
Knight had a simple strategy.
“I was very confident in myself,” he said. “I told myself that I was going to hit that ball as hard and as far as I could.”
Poulin credited the perseverance of his offense to his pitchers’ performances.
“Our guys had confidence in the pitchers,” he said. “Our bats aren’t going, but if we stick with it they’ll come around because we know our pitchers are taking care of their business.”
Cooper Antone and Andrew Closson added key singles for the Broncos.
The Rams were led by Boyce’s double, Brendan Moore’s three singles, and a single each for Wyatt Frost and Bobby Winchell.
The Broncos improve to 10-8 and will move on to play Messalonskee Saturday in Oakland.
Bangor finished at 15-2.
Hampden will be seeking redemption for that loss to Messalonskee, but Poulin believes it will depend on which side of his team shows up.
“We have two teams,” he said. “We have a team that comes focused like today and look at what happens, but then we have a team that doesn’t come focused and makes some errors and mental mistakes.”
Knight was basking in the victory, but still had the larger goal.
“The way it just went, I am ecstatic and on cloud nine right now” he said. “I’m gonna be feeling even better after we win on Saturday.”