AUGUSTA, Maine — Trailing by a run entering the bottom of the ninth inning of their fourth straight elimination game, all the Windham Merchants wanted Sunday afternoon was a reason to hope.
Cody Dube provided that hope with a leadoff double, and the Merchants built on that sudden momentum to earn the chance to play for the American Legion baseball state title.
Coach Brody Artes’ club went on to score twice in its final at-bat, with Dennis Meehan singling home the winning run as Windham scored a dramatic 5-4 victory over Bangor in the opening game of the tournament’s championship-deciding day at Morton Field.
Windham (22-4, 5-1 in state tourney play) advanced to a winner-take-all final against Westbrook at 2 p.m. Monday after Sunday’s game was postponed due to rain. Bangor’s summer ended with a 26-5 record after a 4-2 run through the state tournament that began with a play-in game win over Gorham eight days earlier.
“These kids have been coming back all year long,” said Artes, a Penobscot Valley of Howland graduate who has been teaching and coaching at Windham High School for the last six years. “It’s definitely been an exciting year from that standpoint, and I don’t want to say they’re used to it but they’ve had some experience with it.”
Windham needed a late comeback because Bangor had mounted a major-league rally of its own, erasing a 3-1 deficit with three runs in the top of the eighth.
Carl Farnham was hit by a pitch, Justin Courtney grounded an opposite-field single to right — his fourth hit of the game — and Andrew Hiller reached on a bunt when Farnham beat the throw to third to load the bases with no one out against Windham starter Nate Boyle.
Sam Huston walked to force home Farnham, then an RBI single to left by Hunter Boyce tied the game before a sacrifice fly by Sam Stanhope gave the youthful Comrades their first lead.
“All of our kids really competed,” said Bangor coach Dave Morris, whose roster averaged age 16½. “We’re very young in a lot of areas, but today we really played like men and you’ve just got to give Windham credit. They did a great job, but we played hard.”
Bangor starter Curtis Worcester, making his third start in eight days, was cruising through the late stages of the game, retiring the side in order in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
Then Dube ripped the first pitch of the Windham ninth over Courtney in left field for a double, and Windham was in business.
“We just wanted to get Cody on base, and any extra-base hit was going to be a bonus for us,” said Artes. “Getting that leadoff man on was huge, because if we don’t get him on it was going to be tough for us.”
Shawn Francoeur was hit by Worcester’s next pitch before Tanner Laberge pulled his bat back and slapped a single up the middle past a Bangor defense on the move to deal with his original bunting stance.
That loaded the bases before Boyle hit a nubber into no-man’s land just beyond the mound between first and second bases. Bangor had no play defensively, and Dube scored the tying run with still no one out.
The Comrades then brought in their defense, and Meehan slapped a 1-1 pitch just beyond the reach of diving Bangor center fielder Trevor DeLaite for a single that drove home pinch-runner Zach Conley with the winning run.
“You were just hoping you could get an out after that double happened, but it didn’t happen for us,” said Morris. “They hit the ball where we weren’t and it became a situation of when it rains, it pours.”
Meehan finished with a double, two singles and two RBIs to pace Windham’s 12-hit attack, while Laberge added three singles and leadoff batter Calvin Field doubled twice.
Reliever Joey Francoeur earned the pitching win by getting the final six outs for Windham.
Worcester, who pitched an eight-inning shutout in the state tourney play-in game on July 27 and then allowed one earned run in seven innings Thursday during a win over Pastime Club of Lewiston, struck out four batters and walked no one while throwing just 96 pitches over nine innings against Windham.
“He definitely threw the ball very well today, and he was impressive after throwing the number of pitches he threw [Thursday],” said Artes.
Bangor advanced to Sunday’s game after ousting Staples Crossing of South Berwick 12-6 late Saturday afternoon after losing to Westbrook 9-3 in the completion of a suspended game from Friday.
The Westbrook-Bangor game had been suspended due to inclement weather with Westbrook holding a 7-0 lead after 3½ innings.
When play resumed Saturday, Bangor scored twice in the bottom of the fifth to pull within 7-2, only to have Westbrook score single runs in the sixth and seventh innings to regain its seven-run advantage.
Bangor closed within 9-3 in the bottom of the seventh on an RBI single by Stevenson, but Westbrook’s Keenen Lowe — who pitched three shutout innings at the outset of the game a day earlier — came back on in relief to induce an inning-ending double play.
Lowe then retired Bangor in order in the eighth and ninth innings.
Later in the day, Bangor right-hander Courtney pitched into the seventh inning against Staples Crossing to earn his second victory of the tournament, leaving the mound with the Comrades holding a 12-3 lead.
Courtney also hit a three-run double in the second inning as Bangor scored five runs to erase a 2-0 first-inning deficit.