BELFAST, Maine — Members of the Bangor American Legion baseball team can appreciate the so-called “dog days of August” dreaded by major leaguers amid their annual 162-game schedule.
Only the Comrades are living out that grind during the heat of July — one of the collateral aspects of winning the Class A state championship during the high school season.
“I wouldn’t say it’s hard to get up for the games, but we’re all exhausted from the state championship run and I think that’s the more difficult part of it,” said Sam Huston, an infielder on both Bangor teams whose three-run home run Monday helped the Comrades defeat Waldo 7-2 in a Zone 1 clash at Belfast Area High School.
“I think we all want to win the Legion state championship as much as we wanted to win the high school state championship, so we’re working to get to that point.”
While most high school players had a break before the start of the American Legion season in mid-June, teams like Bangor that advanced to the high school state finals had little or no respite.
The Comrades’ down time was all of 24 hours, as they opened their Legion schedule against Brewer barely 24 hours after Bangor High School knocked off Windham 8-0 to win that program’s first baseball state crown since 2006.
“We were totally exhausted,” recalled Bangor pitcher-infielder Andrew Hillier of the Legion opener, “but we still won the game. We played pretty well.”
The Comrades have averaged three Legion games a week since then, improving their record to 9-2 with their victory over Waldo.
“Coming from the high school season and getting rewarded for all their hard work with the state championship, it’s really tough,” said Bangor Legion head coach Dave Morris, also an assistant on Bangor High School’s coaching staff. “You win a state championship on a Saturday and 24 hours later we’re asking them to come out with the same emotion for a Legion game.
“And every game you play you have a bulls-eye on your chest. Teams want to beat you and they seem to come with their best, but In light of that and the lack of a mental break after a run like the kids had they’ve done a tremendous job. I think at this point we’re just starting to get our second wind.”
Morris said steps have been taken to give players an occasional rest.
“There’s a lot of things we’re learning,” he said. “As a coach it’s my first time being part of a state championship team, so we’re learning things about motivation — like when to let up and when to maybe turn it on a little.
“We’re lucky in that we have a lot of versatile guys so we’ve been able to try to spot guys some time off, but the kids do a great job of taking one day at a time. It’s a very demanding schedule and we expect a lot from them, and they really have done a great job of responding to that.”
That response also has had much to do with the players’ approach to each opponent.
“I think we just have to come to every game and respect our opponent no matter who it is,” said Hillier. “I think we’ve done that. We just need to play consistent and take it one out at a time.
Waldo has struggled in its first year back in the Zone 1 ranks after a three-year hiatus, but solid pitching by Zach Collier and an RBI single by Sam Kulikowski enabled the hosts to hold a 1-0 edge over Bangor through three innings.
The Comrades took the lead with three runs in the top of the fourth as Ben Crichton hit an RBI single that produced a second run on a Waldo throwing error, with Crichton then scoring on a single to left by Hunter Boyce.
Huston broke the game open in the sixth, lining his three-run blast to straightaway center field just after painfully fouling a ball off his lower leg.
“It hurt a little at first, then I shook it off and a couple of pitches later I got a hanging curveball and put it over the fence,” said Huston.
Teammate Trevor DeLaite tripled home Ryan Brookings in the top of the seventh, and righthander Jordan Treadwell earned the pitching win with a complete-game five-hitter while striking out four batters and walking just one.
“Jordan’s had three [Legion] starts and pitched very consistent,” said Morris. The big thing with him is there’s a consistency there. He lets the defense do the work. He goes out and is enthusiastic and he throws strikes.”
Bangor has seven regular-season games remaining before a new round of postseason play begins July 22 with the start of the Zone 1 tournament.
And with that return to playoff pressure a new goal will come to the forefront — that of adding an American Legion state title to Bangor’s high school hardware.
“We’ve been on quite a journey when you look at what this core of players has done, not only this whole year but the last couple of years,” said Morris, referring to the Comrades’ third-place finish at last year’s state Legion tournament. “But the kids are very committed, and as a coach you can’t ask for anything more from a group of players who want to succeed as much as they do.”