Bangor High School won its fourth consecutive Class A baseball state championship Saturday the way virtually all teams find success in the era of BBCOR bats — with pitching and defense.
Seniors Peter Kemble and Nick Cowperthwaite combined to allow just five earned runs in 93 2/3 innings on the mound this season, while classmate Gary Farnham joined the rotation and provided quality depth as the third starter. He earned the win in relief of Cowperthwaite in Saturday’s spine-tingling 4-3 win over Falmouth in the state final at Morton Field in Augusta.
Fellow seniors Derek Fournier and George Payne also played crucial roles. Fournier handled the pitching staff from behind the plate for the last three years and drove home the winning run against Falmouth with a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning. Payne displayed solid play at second base and timely hitting whether near the top or the bottom of the batting order.
But just as critical to Bangor’s latest title run were the contributions of several varsity newcomers, many up from the JV team a year ago but fully aware of the legacy they were being asked to support.
“There most definitely was some pressure, but I just tried to go out there and have fun,” said junior Zach Ireland, who stepped in as the starting shortstop this spring to replace four-year starter Kyle Stevenson. “It’s baseball and it’s supposed to be fun and you feel the pressure at times but you’ve just got to focus on the baseball.”
Those younger Rams ultimately thrived amid the tension of a state championship game that seemed destined for a dramatic ending as Cowperthwaite and Falmouth pitching ace Cam Guarino held their opposing offenses largely in check through eight innings.
Sophomore first baseman Noah Missbrenner had two hits and a sacrifice, Ireland contributed a single and sophomore Zach Cowperthwaite and junior Tyler Parke each had two hits and ignited the game-winning rally after Falmouth had taken a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth.
That deficit that might have been even greater if not for a running catch while racing back toward the fence by newly inserted left fielder Charlie Budd on Colin Coyne’s deep sacrifice fly that produced the second out of the Falmouth ninth.
Budd, a junior, was inserted into the game just one pitch earlier when Farnham moved from left field to the mound to replace Nick Cowperthwaite, who had reached the 110-pitch limit.
Youth served the Rams again in the bottom of the inning as Zach Cowperthwaite and Parke, batting eighth and ninth in the order, drilled consecutive one-out doubles to tie the game and set the stage for the seniors at the top of the order.
Kemble was issued an intentional walk and Payne’s sharply hit grounder toward third base was mishandled before Fournier took a first-pitch fastball and fisted it into shallow center field to deliver Parke from third base with the winning run.
“[Friday] night we were talking about greatness and, not to get too philosophical, but a lot of people want to be great, but what really counts is who do you want to be great for,” said Bangor coach Dave Morris. “We had a motto [Saturday] that we were going to be great for each other and you could see that with a lot of the unselfishness and the kids really going at it for each other: Charlie Budd’s catch, the way Nick Cowperthwaite pitched, Zach and Tyler, everything George Payne did, you can go right down the lineup.”
Perhaps that shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given the program’s 13 state championships since 1970, including a previous run of four consecutive titles between 1994 and 1997.
“The more innings everyone got the more we felt we belonged on that team,” said Ireland. “The younger guys like myself were kind of nervous at the start of the season but as we got into it and played more games it got more comfortable and enjoyable. It was fun from the start and it was a heck of a ride. It was amazing.”
The extension of Bangor’s championship run also affirmed the team’s smooth transition in head coaches this spring from the retired Jeff Fahey to Morris, previously a seven-year assistant under Fahey as well as head coach of the American Legion team that won back-to-back state titles in 2014 and 2015 and was the runner-up last summer.
“With the change in the coaches our game plan and game play barely changed at all,” said Fournier. “Our signs didn’t change, our mentality didn’t change, we kept going at it like we did with coach Fahey. There wasn’t much different, to be honest.”
Nothing changed in how the season ended, either.