BANGOR, Maine — After a strong start to his season, sophomore shortstop Cody Collins of Bangor Christian Schools struggled through the latter part of the year until the playoffs.
“Just these last couple of games I’ve been starting to break out,” said Collins. “I was due and finally I broke through.”
Collins provided the biggest lift for the Patriots in Saturday’s Class D baseball state championship, doubling home Bangor Christian’s first two runs in the first inning and adding RBI singles in the fourth and sixth as BC downed Buckfield 7-3 at Mansfield Stadium.
“Felt like I was seeing a beach ball, to be honest,” said Collins. “It was huge.”
Eastern Maine champion Bangor Christian (19-2) posted five runs in the bottom of the first inning and turned back a challenge by Buckfield (17-2) in the fourth to earn the Patriots’ first state gold glove trophy.
“We’ve got a good, solid team of baseball players. I’m real proud of them,” said coach Mike Poulin.
Poulin’s faith in his team received its sharpest test when the Bucks rallied in the fourth and reached BC starter Ben Bragg for all three of their runs.
“I just kinda lost grip on the ball, [it] kinda got a little slippery,” said Bragg, a junior.
But Poulin never wavered.
“I’ve been coaching Ben … since fifth grade,” said Poulin. “I felt fine with Ben no matter what he was doing, that he’d be up to the challenge.”
Bragg got back in control and stifled Buckfield, keeping the Bucks’ final seven batters off the bases.
Bragg finished with nine strikeouts and three walks, one of them intentional. He allowed five hits and threw three wild pitches.
“He made some big pitches. He kept us off balance,” said Buckfield coach Joe McLaughlin.
“I felt like we got to him, but, you know, that’s the way it goes sometimes,” McLaughlin added.
The Patriots put speed on display throughout the game, but it was most noticeable in the bottom of the fourth.
Center fielder Brad Wilcox, the lone senior, beat out a slapper to short, stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch to set up Collins’ RBI single that gave BC a 6-3 lead and blunted Buckfield’s rally.
“We all run,” said Poulin. “But Bradley wreaks havoc. It changes their whole atmosphere when someone else is up to bat. Bradley has been a major key in just harassing everybody.”
“We knew they were going to run and we had to do everything we could to neutralize it,” said McLaughlin.
Buckfield’s last chance to make up ground came in the top of the fifth when McLaughlin tried to use speed, too.
Leadoff hitter Trevor Averill, the Bucks’ senior center fielder, singled through the shortstop hole, but he was caught stealing on the second strike to Owen Bennett. Bennett was caught looking on the next pitch for the second out.
Buckfield put runners on first and second, but Dustin Damon grounded out to third to end the inning.
Bragg retired the side in order in the sixth and seventh to complete the win.
“I still kick myself about sending Averill,” said McLaughlin, “but the catcher made a good throw and got him. I think that was a bit of a momentum killer there.”
The Patriots’ defense was strong in backing Bragg. Bangor Christian committed only one error, and that was a misfire to first by Bragg in the fourth.
Bragg used that defense to get his pitching back in rhythm.
“Just keep trying to throw strikes, my team will get the ball if it’s hit,” he said.
Sophomore first baseman Jonah Williams was the only Buckfield hitter to consistently get to Bragg, collecting three singles, including one leading off the fourth that started the Bucks’ rally.
“Started it but it ended pretty quick,” said Williams.
Williams and Alan Lebel scored for Buckfield in the fourth on a wild throw to first by Bragg on an Austin Dooley bouncer to the left side. Dooley advanced to second, then scored on two wild pitches for the Bucks’ last run.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t get it done,” said Williams, “but they’re a very well-coached team, play a lot of small ball. Probably the best team we’ve played overall.”
Collins added an RBI single in the sixth for the final run for Bangor Christian, and sophomore third baseman Zac Palmeter posted two singles.
Buckfield senior Cody White struck out five and walked four while giving up nine hits. The Bucks committed five errors, including three in the crucial first inning.