BANGOR, Maine — As a youngster on a senior-laden Old Town High School baseball team in search of its second straight state championship, Leon Lin has seen very little varsity duty this spring.
So thrust into the role of a pinch-runner during the bottom of the seventh inning of Tuesday afternoon’s Class B North final, the sophomore’s emotions were predictable.
“I was nervous,” said Lin. “Extremely nervous. I didn’t want to mess up or anything.”
Moments later those nerves were replaced by a wide grin after Lin took one of the most circuitous routes to home plate imaginable to score the winning run of a three-run rally that lifted the Coyotes to a dramatic 6-5 victory over Erskine Academy of South China at Mansfield Stadium.
“These kids fight,” said Old Town coach Brad Goody. “They’ve been there before and know what it means and how special this is. They never quit.”
The Coyotes trailed 5-3 with the top of its batting order coming up in the bottom of the seventh against Erskine reliever Dylan Presby.
T.J. Crawford led off with a bunt single down the third-base line, then advanced to second on a balk by Presby. Ryan Hoogterp walked before Cole Daniel ripped a double to left-center. Crawford scored easily on the play, and when Erskine center fielder Cody Taylor misplayed the ball Hoogterp scored the tying run from first.
Austin Sheehan was intentionally walked and Jacob Ketch hit a fielder’s choice grounder to third that forced out Daniel at third and advanced Sheehan to second.
Lin replaced Sheehan on the basepaths, and when Ethan Stoddard grounded a single up the middle the Old Town pinch-runner took off for third — and then stopped because he thought the ball had been caught by one of Erskine’s middle infielders.
Taylor bobbled the ball in the outfield and perhaps thinking that Lin already had scored did not immediately return the ball to the infield.
Goody, coaching at third base, finally got his baserunner’s attention and Lin sped home to give Old Town its only lead of the game.
“I thought the second baseman or shortstop had the ball so that’s why I stopped,” said Lin. “I just had to comprehend everything. I saw everything and heard everything and it was all happening so fast so I just started running.”
That’s what Goody had in mind even before the ball was misplayed in the outfield.
“With one out I was trying to send him anyway because even with a play at the plate there would have only been two outs,” he said. “He didn’t pick on it, but I think the center fielder gave up on the play and turned his head like they had just lost, and then we were able to walk in.”
The win advances 16-3 Old Town to Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. state final at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish against Yarmouth, a 5-3 winner over York in the B South title game.
Erskine Academy finishes at 15-4.
Sheehan earned the pitching win with 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, aided by Ketch throwing out a baserunner at the plate from left field to end the top of the seventh.
Erskine, seeking its first regional title since winning the 1984 Western C crown, took a 4-0 lead in the top of the third, with Presby singling home a run and three more runs scoring when Crawford lost Andrew Browne’s fly ball to deep center in the afternoon sky for a three-run double.
Old Town broke through against Erskine starter and Mr. Baseball finalist Nate Howard in the bottom of the fourth when Sheehan walked, stole second — Old Town’s 103rd theft in 109 attempts this spring — and scored when Ketch slammed his team’s first hit, a sharp single to center.
Old Town scored twice in the bottom of the fifth to make it a one-run game on an RBI groundout by Hoogterp and Daniel’s RBI single to left-center.
Jorgenson capped off a run of four straight two-out hits by Erskine in the sixth with an RBI single to right field that gave the Eagles a 5-3 lead.