Justin Courtney just might have earned himself a new nickname — “Clutch” — on Saturday morning at Middletown, Connecticut.
Courtney stroked three run-scoring hits, including a two-out, RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning, to lift Bangor to a 4-3 victory over Essex, Vermont, in an elimination game at the American Legion Baseball Northeast Regional.
Coach David Morris’ Comrades (25-6, 2-1 in tournament play) advance to a 1 p.m. elimination game Sunday against the Connecticut entry from Rocky Hill-Cromwell-Portland (27-9).
RCP fell to Milford, Massachusetts, 5-3, in Saturday night’s winners’ bracket game. Milford, 27-8 overall and still undefeated in the tournament, will face once-beaten Middletown, Connecticut, (32-16) in Sunday’s 7 p.m. game.
Middletown remained alive by eliminating Cheshire, Connecticut, 7-4 in the second of Saturday’s three games.
On Saturday morning, Courtney’s timely hitting was the difference. He posted three singles, each of which drove in a run, amidst Bangor’s 11-hit attack.
None was more timely than that which came in the bottom of the ninth after Essex (29-11) had tallied two runs in the top of the inning to forge a 3-3 tie.
Trevor DeLaite got the rally started when he reached on a fielding error with one out. He was erased on a fielder’s choice grounder by Kyle Stevenson.
Stevenson moved to second on a wild pitch, but the Vermont coach elected to pitch to Courtney. He worked the count to 2-2 before stinging a single through the middle to score the game-winner.
Courtney also picked up the pitching win in relief. He faced two batters, allowing a two-run single before registering the final out of the ninth.
Andrew Hillier went 8 2/3 innings and scattered seven hits, giving up three runs, only one of which was earned. He struck out five, walked four and hit two batters.
Hunter Boyce and DeLaite each logged a double and a single for Bangor, and Ben Crichton contributed a single and a sacrifice fly.
Jacob Gaboriault singled twice and drove in two runs for Essex, while Joshua Baez hit a double and two singles. Elijah Baez had A single and an RBI.
Pat Brodeur went the distance for the Vermont squad, spacing 11 hits with three strikeouts and two walks. Four of his three runs were earned.
Essex, Vermont, had erased a two-run deficit in the ninth inning. Robertson worked Hillier for a one-out walk, then Jonah Baez reached on an error.
Hillier retired the next batter but then walked Davis Mikell to load the bases. Hillier was lifted in favor of Courtney, who surrendered a two-run single to right field off the bat of Gaboriault that made it 3-3.
Courtney got the final out, stranding the potential go-ahead run at second base.
Bangor had pulled in front in the sixth inning when Hillier led off with a single through the middle. Sam Huston pushed him to second with a sacrifice bunt, then Boyce singled through the left side to put runners at the corners.
Crichton brought home the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to center field.
The Comrades tallied an insurance run in the seventh. DeLaite lashed a one-out double to left-center and took third when the throw to the infield was mishandled.
One out later, Courtney ripped a double down the left-field line to make it a 3-1 contest.
Essex had grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning. Puleo hit a leadoff double to right-center, then scored on a one-out single by Josh Baez.
Bangor equalized in the third. Ryan Gagne and DeLaite opened the frame with singles, then both advanced on Stevenson’s sacrifice bunt.
That brought up Courtney, who stroked a run-scoring single through the middle. DeLaite also tried to score on the play but was cut down at the plate.