OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine — Curtis Worcester pitched a three-hitter and Nic Cota plated the go-ahead run with a sixth-inning sacrifice fly as the Bangor Comrades opened play at the 2012 American Legion baseball state tournament with a 3-1 victory over Gardiner at The Ballpark on Wednesday evening.
Brendan Moore had three singles and Dylan Morris scored twice for Zone 1 champion Bangor (20-2), which will play Zone 4 runner-up First Title of Portland (17-7) in a winners’ bracket game of the double-elimination tournament at 7 p.m. Thursday.
First Title (17-7), which draws players from Cheverus High School, topped two-time defending state champion Pastime Club of Lewiston 9-1.
The other winners bracket game will have Zone 4 champion Saco-Biddeford Savings of Westbrook (17-5) against Zone 4 runner-up Windham (17-6). Westbrook defeated Zone 5 champion Fayette-Staples of Saco 5-1 and Windham whipped Post 51 of Oakland-Fairfield 13-1 in seven innings.
Thursday’s elimination games will have Post 51 (18-3) against Fayette-Staples (15-6) at 9:30 a.m., followed at 12:30 p.m. by Zone 2 runner-up Gardiner (17-5) against Pastime Club (19-3).
The Bangor-Gardiner matchup was dominated by a pitchers’ duel between the University of Southern Maine-bound Worcester and Gardiner right-hander Spencer Allen, who recently completed his freshman year at Husson University in Bangor.
Worcester won the duel, yielding just a first-inning single to Ben Crocker and back-to-back singles with two out in the eighth to Luke Fletcher and Crocker while striking out nine batters and walking two during a 129-pitch performance.
“I felt really good out there,” said Worcester. “Obviously we get real excited to come down here and play in the state tournament, and the field is great and the mound is the best I’ve ever pitched on. I love it down here.”
Worcester went to a three-ball count on just three batters and did not allow an earned run while throwing 92 strikes compared to just 37 balls.
He also induced just two groundball outs, one on a sacrifice bunt.
“After the first time through the order we started to notice that some of the hitters were definitely dropping their backside a little bit so Dylan [Morris, the Bangor catcher] said we’re going to pitch up until they burn us with it,” said Worcester.
“With a team like that, they’ve definitely got some good hitters and if we leave the ball up it could get ugly, but it just happened that we got it up to the right people and they got under it and our outfield did a great job.”
Allen was nearly as good, yielding five hits with seven strikeouts and two walks. He allowed just one earned run.
“That kid pitched a heck of a game,” said Cota. “He hit his spots and his off-speed pitches were amazing, so it took us a little while to get used to him.”
Gardiner took a 1-0 lead with an unearned run in the top of the first, as Crocker hit a one-out single to center and reached second on an outfield error before advancing to third on a passed ball and scoring on a sacrifice fly to right by Dennis Meehan.
Bangor countered with an unearned run of its own in the second without hitting the ball out of the infield. Moore led off by reaching first on a throwing error, went to third on back-to-back groundouts to third base and scored the tying run as Seth Freudenberger reached on another Gardiner throwing error.
Worcester retired 13 of 14 batters during one stretch early in the game — and picked off the lone Gardiner batter to reach base during that span — before Gardiner threatened again in the top of the sixth by loading the bases with two outs on a throwing error after a third-strike wild pitch and two walks.
Worcester escaped that jam by getting Allen to fly to deep right to end the inning.
Bangor scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the inning, with a sacrifice fly by Cota driving home Morris to give the Comrades a 2-1 lead.
Morris drew a one-out walk and went to third when Moore singled to right. Cota fell behind in the count 1-2 but fouled off three consecutive pitches before lining out to medium center field, with Morris easily scoring on the play.
“I told myself after I struck out the last time up that this couldn’t be happening and I had to step up my game,” said Cota. “When I strike out I usually strike out on outside pitches and I didn’t want that to happen so I just tried to spoil those pitches until I got one that I could get a good piece of and get the RBI.”
The eighth-inning singles by Fletcher and Crocker gave Gardiner runners at first and second with two out, but Worcester induced Meehan to pop out to second base on the next pitch.
Bangor added an insurance run with a two-out rally in the bottom of the eighth. Morris and Moore hit back-to-back singles to center, then Morris scored as Cota reached base on a Gardiner throwing error.