HAMPDEN, Maine — Justin Courtney was hoping merely to contribute an effective pitching start for the Bangor American Legion baseball team as the Comrades squared off against Hampden in a Zone 1 battle of the unbeatens Wednesday evening.
A nine-inning, two-hit shutout more than fits that definition, and that’s what Courtney delivered as coach Dave Morris’ club secured a 4-0 victory over the River Dogs at Bordick Park.
“I’ll take it,” said the righthander, who will be a senior at Bangor High School this fall. “Whenever you can get a good, quality start in, it’s a bonus.”
Courtney teamed with catcher Hunter Boyce to mix in four pitches that kept the Hampden lineup off balance from start to finish. He struck out 11, walked just two and never faced more than four batters in an inning.
“Pretty much all my pitches were working,” he said. “I was able to find my fastball when I wanted to and by the fourth or fifth inning my curveball started to drop in where I wanted it. My other two pitches, my cutter and changeup, felt good, too. They all felt good today.”
Courtney yielded only a two-out single to Spencer Hartsgrove in the bottom of the third inning and a two-out double to Matt Palmer in the ninth. Just two other balls left the infield among Courtney’s 120 pitches.
“I think he definitely was in command the whole game,” said Bangor coach Dave Morris, whose team is 7-0 a third of the way through the 21-game Zone 1 regular-season schedule.
“For Justin it’s been one game after another. I think he’s been pitching this way since last summer and getting better and better. His velocity has really increased, and it’s great to see a kid who works as hard as he does and believes in himself have good things happen,” Morris added.
Courtney outdueled Hampden righthander Matt Martin, who allowed four runs on five hits in 7 2/3 innings while striking out 10 and walking one.
“You know Matt’s going to give you a battle out there,” said Courtney. “You just try to match him and maybe even outdo him if you can.”
Bangor rightfielder Sam Huston was the game’s lone repeat hitter with a pair of doubles, an RBI blast to left with two outs in the top of the sixth and a two-out drive to right-center in the eighth.
“Sam had a couple of tough at-bats in the beginning,” said Morris, “but he believed in himself and put the bat on the ball and when a kid throws as hard as (Martin) does if you get around on it you’re going to hit it and it’s going to go.”
Carl Farnham’s aggressiveness on the basepaths staked Bangor to a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth. The recent Bangor High graduate grounded a leadoff single up the middle for the game’s first hit, then advanced to second base on a wild pitch.
Farnham safely slid under the throw to third base by Martin after a one-out comebacker to the mound by Andrew Hillier, with Hillier reaching first base on the play,
Hiller then stole second base, and when Hampden shortstop Hartsgrove slipped on the soggy turf while catching a throw to the third-base side of second, Farnham raced home with the game’s first run.
“We’re just trying to take advantage of what we’re given,” said Morris of his team’s baserunning tactics. “If there’s a bobbled ball or a ball in the dirt we’re just trying to take the extra base, and we’ve really done a great job of establishing that identity of putting pressure on the defense.”
Farnham was the only baserunner from either team to advance beyond first base during the first five innings as Courtney and Martin yielded just one hit apiece.
Bangor extended its lead to 3-0 with two sixth-inning runs. Trevor DeLaite led off with a single to center and then took off for second and was credited with a stolen base as the first pitch to Farnham sailed to the backstop.
Courtney then beat out a one-out single to shortstop and when the throw to first bounced into foul territory, DeLaite scored the Comrades’ second run.
Courtney was forced out at second base on a fielder’s choice grounder by Hillier, but Huston followed by blasting a 1-2 fastball to deep left for a double that drove home Hillier from first base.
Farnham was hit by a pitch to open the Bangor eighth, then stole second before advancing to third on a groundout by Hillier and scoring on a wild pitch by Hampden reliever Shawn Smith to make it 4-0.