BANGOR, Maine — Matt Palmer played in plenty of big postseason games last winter as a key member of Hampden Academy’s 2012 Eastern Maine Class A championship basketball team.
But Thursday evening’s final round of the Maine District 3 Senior League baseball tournament offered an even more unique prize — a berth in the Senior League World Series — and Palmer and the rest of the Hampden All-Stars went out and seized it with a 7-2 victory over Bangor at Mansfield Stadium.
“I told the guys before the game that we were playing for a dream tonight,” said Palmer, “and we came out on top. We’re playing for a dream right now and we love it.”
Hampden will make its first appearance as the host team in the SLWS at noon Sunday against the Canadian champion Notre-Dame-de-Grace Little League of Montreal in the opening game of the seven-day tournament to be held at Mansfield Stadium for the 11th straight year.
The collection of players from Hampden, Hermon, Glenburn and Winterport will play four pool-play games against the champions of Canada, U.S. East, U.S. Central and Latin America, and if it finishes as one of the top two teams in its pool it would advance to the SLWS semifinals next Friday.
“The core group of players has been together since they were 8 years old, and we’ve kind of been building toward this,” said Hampden manager Basil Closson. “I’m just so proud of them. I think it’s going to be an experience of a lifetime for these kids, and I can’t wait.”
Hampden (4-0) never trailed and beat Bangor for the second time in three nights to win the district title behind the combined four-hit pitching of Matt Martin and Cody Lyons.
Martin yielded the four hits but allowed no earned runs while striking out seven batters and walking two during a 98-pitch effort that covered the first six innings.
“I knew I had to first-pitch strike them because I knew they would take until I threw a strike,” said Martin. “I tried to pound the zone early, get first-pitch strikes and attack from there.”
Lyons worked a scoreless seventh, yielding only a two-out walk.
Leadoff hitter Cody Varney doubled and singled twice and Palmer added three singles to pace Hampden’s 10-hit attack.
Hampden took a 1-0 lead off Bangor starter Justin Courtney in the top of the first inning when Palmer hit a two-out single to right, advanced to second on a walk to Martin and scored on Michael Ward’s RBI single up the middle.
The new champions added two runs in the second. James Gilmore hit a leadoff single to center and came around to score on Varney’s two-out, opposite-field double to right. Tristan Gardiner then singled to center, driving home Varney to give Hampden a 3-0 lead.
Hampden broke the game open with a three-run rally in the fourth inning. Two of Bangor’s five errors on the night contributed to the uprising, along with a single to left-center by Palmer and an RBI grounder by Martin.
Bangor, which finished the tournament with a 2-2 record, managed single runs in the fifth and sixth innings. Sam Huston reached on a fielder’s choice in the fifth after a leadoff single by Nic Ashey and came around to score on three of Hampden’s four errors in the game.
Brendan Moore opened the Bangor sixth with a single to left, stole second and scored on an error after a two-out single by Huston.
Hampden scored its final run in the seventh when Keegan Quigley drew a leadoff walk and went to second on a two-out single by Varney before special pinch-runner Robert Stowe scored as Gardner reached on an error.
“We made a bunch of errors against Brewer in the district tournament last year and lost to them, and then Brewer played in the World Series,” said Martin. “I remember sitting here for the [SLWS] games, the stands were packed and I thought, ‘It would be nice to get here.’
“So we worked hard this year and now it’s paid off. It feels nice to finally do it.”