BANGOR, Maine — Bangor High School’s run to its fourth consecutive Class A baseball state championship this spring featured veteran leadership at the top of its lineup, with seniors occupying the first four spots in the batting order.
But the lower half of the lineup also played a pivotal role in helping the Rams rally in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat Falmouth 4-3 in the title game, with doubles by sophomore Zach Cowperthwaite and junior Tyler Parke igniting the two-run rally.
Barely a month later the foursome at the top of the batting order — Peter Kemble, George Payne, Derek Fournier and Nick Cowperthwaite — are off readying for the next stages of their lives, leaving the complementary cast from the spring to assume prime-time roles this summer as Bangor Coffee News begins its pursuit of a third American Legion state championship in four years.
That passing of the torch has gone rather smoothly so far, with the Comrades clinching first place in the final Zone 1 regular-season standings Tuesday night with a 13-1 victory over Post 51 of Oakland.
“We’ve had some really good players come through the program, but this is the next generation,” said Bangor Coffee News head coach Dave Morris after that game. “This summer has been really good for them.”
The Comrades will begin play in the Zone 1 tournament at Husson University on Friday with an 11-4 record and riding a six-game winning streak.
“It wasn’t that hard of a transition, we just sort of rolled right through,” said Bangor Coffee News first baseman Noah Missbrenner. “The season kept right on going. We had a good time, after but there’s always more baseball after that.”
Bangor Coffee News will face the winner of Thursday night’s play-in game between No. 4 Skowhegan and No. 5 Post 51 of Oakland at 7 p.m. Friday in the first round of the four-team, double-elimination phase of the Zone 1 tourney.
That follows a 4 p.m. game between No. 2 R.H. Foster of Hampden (10-5) and No. 3 Brewer (8-7).
The tournament continues with three games Saturday and the championship round Sunday afternoon. The top two finishers advance to the American Legion state tournament that begins next Wednesday, also at Husson.
Since opening its season less than 24 hours after the dramatic conclusion to the high school state final, Bangor Coffee News has gotten significant contributions from the remaining starters from the high school team — Parke, Missbrenner, Zach Cowperthwaite, Gary Farnham and Zach Ireland — most of whom began 2017 with relatively little varsity or Senior Legion experience.
But hardened by a challenging run through the high school playoffs, experience is not an asset lacking anymore.
“You just go out and play hard and everything takes care of itself,” said Ireland, who replaced graduated four-year starter Kyle Stevenson at shortstop on both the high school and Legion teams. “You get more games and innings under your belt and you get more confident as the year goes on because you’ve got to step up. I would say I’m much more confident now than I was in March.”
Bangor Coffee News also has been buoyed by the return of veterans Jesse Colford, Ryan Brookings and Ben Crichton — the latter two both fifth-year Legion players — to the roster along with three newcomers from the former Motor City Legion team that folded just before the season began.
Ethan Stoddard and Austin Sheehan of Old Town and Cam Graham of Houlton have merely added to the Legion team’s experience, with Old Town High School winning the 2016 Class B state championship and returning to the state final this spring while Houlton reached the Class C North title game a year ago and the semifinals in 2017.
Yet for a program that typically draws nearly all of its players from Bangor High School, an adjustment period was required as the Comrades split their first four games and were just 5-4 with two weeks left in the regular season.
“In that sense it’s been a lot different,” said Morris. “But I can say this, the kids have done a great job of accepting and those three kids have come into a program that’s established and it’s been like they’ve been here for 10 years. It’s been a really good mix for us.”
Stoddard has helped fortify a Bangor Coffee News pitching staff that was a question mark as the summer began with the absence of the top two pitchers from Bangor’s high school team. The University of Maine-bound Kemble opted to pitch in the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League while Nick Cowperthwaite is preparing to attend Maine Maritime Academy in the fall.
That question mark now looms as a position of strength with Colford back after a strong freshman year at Husson (2-2, 1 save, 3.76 ERA in 38⅔ innings) to anchor a pitching staff that also includes Farnham, Stoddard and a bevy of younger arms including Zach Cowperthwaite, Missbrenner, Karl Sund and Nick Canarr who have gained experience on the mound this summer.
“We definitely thought about it,” said Ireland, “but we had Jesse coming back and some younger guys step up and pitch and everyone’s getting innings now. There was definitely a concern but everything just worked out in the end.”
This team’s ultimate goal is to extend the Queen City’s recent streak of appearing in seven consecutive Class A high school and American Legion baseball state championship games — the Comrades won state Legion crowns in 2014 and 2015 before Yankee Ford of South Portland edged the Comrades 5-4 in last year’s final.
But first comes the Zone 1 tourney, where Bangor Coffee News is taking nothing for granted.
“Obviously this spring we might not have been projected to be the best team in the league, but we put that aside and grinded out every single game and it’s nothing different here,” said Parke. “We’re a good team but there are other good teams in this league as well so we just try to come out and play our best every day.”