June 24, 2018
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Bangor tops Messalonskee to win Eastern A baseball crown

By Ernie Clark, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — The shaving-cream pie to the face momentarily left Justin Courtney with a stinging sensation in his eyes, while the bucket of ice poured over Jeff Fahey brought a brief chill to an otherwise warm day.

But those were merely the postseason inconveniences of a long-awaited celebration for the Bangor High School baseball team, which won its first Eastern Maine Class A title since 2007 at Morton Field on Tuesday with a 6-3 victory over two-time defending EM champion Messalonskee of Oakland.

“Actually it feels really good,” said Fahey, the Rams’ 14th-year head coach, in the immediate aftermath of his dousing. “It’s been a while for one of those, but I’ll take it. I’d like to have one more.”

Top-seeded Bangor (17-2) will play for the chance to celebrate again in Saturday’s 1 p.m. state final at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish against Western A champion Windham (11-9). The No. 11 seed in the Western Maine field, Windham used a no-hit pitching performance from Tyler LaBerge to outlast No. 4 Marshwood of South Berwick 2-0 in nine innings in its regional final Tuesday night.

Second-ranked Messalonskee ends its season with a 13-6 record.

Senior righthander Courtney (6-1) scattered seven hits over 6⅓ innings on the mound to earn the pitching win for Bangor with seventh-inning relief help from junior Andrew Hillier.

The University of Maine-bound Courtney struck out four batters and walked just two during a 102-pitch performance — including 74 strikes — while outdueling Messalonskee righthander Jake Dexter.

“I felt comfortable with all my pitches today and got them all over for strikes and kept them off balance,” said Courtney.

Dexter allowed six runs — but just two earned — while working into the fifth inning as his cause was hindered by four Messalonskee errors, two during a five-run fifth-inning uprising by Bangor that broke the game open.

“I‘ve always been and always will be a big believer in defense in the playoffs, it’s the only way you’re going to move on,” said Messalonskee coach Ray Bernier. “I don’t care how well you hit, it’s the defense that does it and it showed.”

Courtney, Hillier, Jordan Derrah and Johnny Cote each had two hits to pace Bangor’s 10-hit attack, while Zach Mathieu doubled and singled and Jared Cunningham singled twice for Messalonskee.

This was a tense encounter through its midpoint, with Bangor clinging to a 1-0 lead after Cote — the Rams’ third leadoff hitter in as many innings to reach base — hit an opposite-field double just beyond the reach of Messalonskee right fielder Caleb Bean and scored on an errant throw on Trevor DeLaite’s one-out fielder’s choice grounder.

Bangor — which entered the game with a .341 team batting average but had managed just four hits in its previous 14 innings of postseason play — finally got untracked offensively in the fifth inning, sending 10 batters to the plate and scoring five runs on six hits.

“The third time through the lineup against [Dexter] everybody was getting comfortable,” said Courtney. “We knew we had to be ready for his fastball and that’s what we jumped on. He tried to get it over for a strike to get ahead in the count but we were ready.”

Derrah grounded a one-out infield hit into the shortstop hole and went to second as DeLaite reached on an infield error.

Courtney then singled up the middle to drive home Derrah, with DeLaite also scoring and Courtney reaching third on the play when Dexter caught the relay throw and threw the ball into center field in an attempt to catch DeLaite off second base.

Hillier then singled to center to drive home pinch-runner Ryan Gagne and Sam Huston followed with a single to right before reliever Josh Casey came on to get the second out of the inning,

Bangor then turned to senior pinch-hitter Riley McKay, who got ahead in the count before blasting a double that one-hopped the left-field fence and drove home both Hillier and Huston to give the Rams 6-0 cushion.

“Coach told me to go up there and try to hit it hard, so I came with that mindset,” said McKay. “I got up 2-0 and just looked for my pitch, and he threw a middle-inside pitch and I just drove it to left field.”

Messalonskee broke up Courtney’s shutout bid in the sixth when Zach Mathieu singled home Jared Cunningham, then mounted a more serious threat an inning later.

An infield error allowed Sam Bell to reach base with one out, then back-to-back singles by Trevor Gettig and Cunningham loaded the bases and prompted Fahey to turn to Hillier for bullpen relief.

Devin Warren’s sacrifice fly to center plated Bell to make it 6-2, and an RBI double down the left-field line by Mathieu made it a three-run game and brought the tying run to the plate.

But Hillier induced Dexter to pop a 2-2 pitch into foul territory along the first-base line, and when DeLaite made the catch the Rams were regional champions for the first time in seven years.

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