BANGOR, Maine — On the surface, Bangor Christian’s victory in Saturday’s Class D baseball state championship game might appear to have been simply the latest victory in a dominating three-year stretch for the program.
The Patriots’ 5-4, eight-inning win over Wiscasset at Mansfield Stadium did represent the team’s third consecutive title. However, it was the culmination of what had been a gritty season for coach Mike Poulin’s team.
Bangor Christian posted a 19-1 record that belies some of the obstacles the squad faced along the way.
“We talked all year about character, and what defines character is adversity,” Poulin said.
The Patriots used faith — in God and in each other — to navigate some significant challenges. The team broke their game-opening huddle by shouting, “Team ball for God!”
Bangor Christian went through 2014 without its ace pitcher. Senior Cody Collins, suffering from an ulnar nerve problem in his right arm, would be relegated to playing second base.
That meant junior right-hander Seth Pearson would become the go-to man. He responded, allowing only six earned runs all season, and he also saw duty at second base.
Bangor Christian built its success around a handful of seniors led by Collins, third baseman/pitcher Zac Palmeter, first baseman/pitcher Tucker Rice, left fielder Kyle Holmes, right fielder Bryon Boutot, pitcher David Peters and Brandon Messer.
That contingent not only won three straight baseball crowns but was instrumental in the Patriots winning the last four of five consecutive Class D soccer state championships.
All that big-game experience has been critical in Bangor Christian’s baseball success, but it goes beyond simply what happens on the playing field.
“We always have a saying, we’re a family first and a team second, so we always rely on each other, and we always pick each other up,” Rice said. “I think that plays a huge part.”
The Patriots’ veterans were bolstered by some key younger contributors.
Freshman Josh Palmeter was thrust into a starting role behind the plate after an arm injury relegated classmate Alexander McKenney to designated hitter duties. Freshman Jon Cormier played center field, and Dean Grass, an eighth-grader, was the starting shortstop.
“It’s definitely the seniors teaching them throughout the year how we play, teaching them the language and using that language all year,” Poulin said of the youngsters’ ability to step in and produce.
Another eighth-grader, Levi Stedman, entered Saturday’s game as a pinch-runner and scored the winning run in the eighth inning. He had seen some action during the regular season.
With a short bench and a limited roster, Bangor Christian’s coaches — including assistants Tim Collins and Jacob Guay — take pains to get as many players involved as possible.
“We try to get everybody experience, so when they get here [the state game], it’s not like they don’t know what they’re doing,” Poulin said. “We wouldn’t put them in unless we feel that they can do what they need to do.”
The squad also included junior Josh Viekman and eighth-grader Nate Waite.
The Patriots’ meticulous preparation also came into play when Collins was brought in to pitch the last two innings of the title game against Wiscasset. With no risk for further injury, Tim Collins said his son had thrown some limited bullpen sessions at 50 percent intensity and worked three regular-season innings — just in case.
On Saturday, Cody Collins pitched two hitless innings with four strikeouts and a walk to earn the win against the Wolverines.
“At first, I was just thinking the opportunity to get to finish my senior season on the mound, that was all I could hope for,” Collins said Saturday. “Then, when we got get ourselves in position to win the game and we get the win, I have no words for it. I’m just so happy.”
The Patriots will look back and relish not only success but being blessed to be able to share another special season together.
“Everything we do’s for God, and we just give it all for him,” Collins said.