BANGOR, Maine — Long winters and short springs in northern Maine seemingly have left the Caribou High School baseball program at a disadvantage for generations — until now.
Matt Curry’s two-out single to left field in the bottom of the 10th inning Wednesday night drove home Dustin Bouchard with the tie-breaking run as the Vikings defeated Old Town 4-3 to capture its first-ever Eastern Maine Class B championship.
The victory advances the seventh-ranked Vikings (14-6) to Saturday’s 11 a.m. state final, also at Mansfield Stadium. Caribou will play Greely (16-3) of Cumberland Center, a 3-0 winner of Lincoln Academy of Newcastle in the Western B title game.
“This is a milestone for us,” said Vikings’ coach JImmie Thibodeau.
Old Town, the eighth seed in Eastern B, ends its season with a 12-8 record.
Leadoff batter Michael Hunter began the Caribou 10th with his fourth hit of the contest, a single to left off Old Town reliever Eric Hoogterp.
Hunter was forced out at second on a bunt by Bouchard, but Bouchard reached first on the play and soon advanced to second base on a balk.
Matt Milliard was walked intentionally for the second time in three innings before Hoogterp caught a foul popup off the bat of Sean Sadler for the second out of the inning.
Curry then fell behind in the count 0-2 before lining his third hit of the game into left field, and Bouchard never stopped as he scored from second with the championship-clinching run.
“I expected a curveball but he came with a fastball so I just went with it into left-center like I had been all day and delivered,” said Curry, one of seven seniors on the Caribou roster.
The left-handed Curry also pitched a complete game, scattering 12 hits while striking out five batters and walking no one during an economical 116-pitch performance — an 11.6 pitch per inning average — that improved his record to 8-1.
“They had faced me earlier in the season and I knew they knew what I had, so I just wanted to keep them off balance,” said Curry, whose only loss this spring came during a season-opening doubleheader at Old Town. “I just kept firing. I was ready to go another inning.”
Curry, indeed, was at his best late in the game, facing no more than four batters in each of the final four innings and getting three of his strikeouts in the ninth and 10th frames.
“The kid’s incredible,” said Thibodeau. “He throws strikes, he keeps hitters off balance and he moves the ball around the corners of the plate. Tonight he came out and did his job.”
This was a rematch of the Eastern Maine Class B basketball final between the two schools last February, which No. 6 Old Town outlasted No. 4 Caribou 43-41 in overtime en route to the state championship.
The encore on the diamond was just as tight as the original version on the hardwood.
The two baseball teams combined for 27 hits, but errorless defense by both clubs and resilient pitching by Curry, Hoogterp and Old Town starter Adam Richardson prevented either team from pulling away.
Caribou won despite stranding 17 batters — leaving the bases loaded three times and also coming up empty after loading the bases with no one out in the bottom of the third.
For much of the night it looked like the Vikings might pay for that inability to capitalize on their offensive threats, as Old Town scored twice in the fourth inning on a two-run double by Zach Miller and added another run in the top of the sixth on an RBI single by Braden Upshaw to build a 3-0 lead.
But Caribou finally broke through, scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth after Richardson had retired the first two batters of the inning.
Cody Herbert doubled off the glove of Upshaw, the Old Town center fielder, and scored when Dylan Berkoski singled to center.
Mason Huck then walked before both he and Berkoski moved into scoring position on a wild pitch by Hoogterp, who had just entered the game to pitch to Caribou’s No. 9 hitter, Matt Manter.
Manter then worked the count to 2-2 before singling to right field, with both runners scoring to forge a sudden 3-3 tie.
“It looked doubtful for a while,” said Curry, “but I knew if we kept getting guys on eventually something was going to happen.”
Caribou loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the seventh on a triple by Milliard, a hit batter and a walk, but Hoogterp regrouped to retire the next two batters on nearly identical third-strike fastballs on the outside corner of the plate to send the game to extra innings.
“We dodged quite a few bullets, got lucky and made some great plays, but they eventually got some key hits when they needed them,” said Old Town coach Brad Goody. “We let them hang around and hang around, and sooner or later they were going to do it.”