By Pete Warner, BDN
BANGOR, Maine — There isn’t much room for error in the postseason.
Messalonskee didn’t make any during Saturday night’s Eastern Maine Class A baseball semifinal against Hampden Academy.
The sixth-seeded Eagles made a handful of defensive gems and turned two double plays, setting the tone for a 7-2 victory over the No. 2 Broncos at Husson Academy’s Winkin Complex.
“We know we have to buckle down on ‘D,’ especially in the playoffs, because defense wins games at the end of the day,” said Messalonskee sophomore Jake Dexter.
Coach Ray Bernier’s ballclub (12-6) avenged two regular-season losses (10-0 and 9-2) to Hampden Academy while earning a spot in the regional title game in Augusta.
The defending state champion Eagles will face No. 1 Oxford Hills of South Paris (16-2), an 11-6 winner over Cony, Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Morton Field.
Messalonskee made the plays, both the routine and the tough ones, to reach the EM final.
“We really believe that’s going to be the difference, especially when it comes to the playoffs,” Bernier said. “Especially against a good team like this, if we can hold back on errors and mistakes, not give them an extra out, we’ll have a chance to beat them.”
Coach McLean Poulin’s Broncos (15-3) lost to Messalonskee in the semifinals for the second straight year.
Hampden finished with an uncharacteristic five errors, which led to five unearned runs that helped the Eagles break the game open.
“This time of year, the more you advance in the playoffs, the cleaner you’ve got to play because the good teams are going to capitalize on the mistakes and they did that today,” Poulin said.
Senior co-captain Josh Woodard propelled the Eagles with a double, two singles, two RBIs and two runs scored. Devin Warren provided two singles and a sacrifice fly and drove in two runs.
Right-hander Dexter (2-0) picked up the win on the mound with three innings of two-hit, one run relief. He came on with two on and nobody out in the fourth and struck out three straight batters.
Dexter also made a diving play at second base for an inning-ending forceout in the second inning, then made the turn on a nifty 6-4-3 double play initiated by shortstop Jared Cunningham with two on and nobody out in the third.
Messalonskee did not commit an error.
Hampden also failed to get hits in key situations, stranding seven baserunners in the first four innings and 10 in the contest.
“They made some great plays, too,” Poulin said. “With that, you tip your cap to them. We still put the bat on the ball, but they made some great plays and got out of some jams.”
Cooper Anton led the HA offense with two singles and an RBI and Michael Ward doubled and singled. Logan Steward provided a run-scoring double.
Starting pitcher Matt Palmer took the loss, giving up eight hits and five runs (three earned) through the first five innings.
Messalonskee jumped in front in the first inning against Palmer, who pitched a six-inning, one-hitter against the Eagles on April 19.
Dexter singled through the middle, Cunningham grounded a single past third base and Woodward delivered a hit-and-run RBI single back through the box. One out later, Warren delivered an RBI single to left.
“We’re coming together as a team right now, just enjoying being together,” Woodard said. “When one person gets a hit, we just feed off of one another and keep the energy up all game.”
The Eagles made it 3-0 in the third. Woodard lined an opposite-field single to right, Ben Frazee single to left-center and both advanced on a wild pitch. A two-out throwing error allowed the run to score.
Hampden scored a run in the third. Antone and Nick Rodgerson singled off Eagles starter Patrick Breton, but Matt Palmer grounded into a double play. Steward cashed in, roping a double down the left-field line.
Matt Closson followed with a single, but both were left stranded.
Messalonskee picked up two unearned runs in the fifth. Cunningham reached on a dropped fly ball and scored when Woodard laced a double to right-center and moved up on an errant throw back to the infield.
Warren’s sacrifice fly made it a 5-1 ballgame.
“They manhandled us the last two games,” Bernier said. “We needed to really go up there attacking and see what happens.”
Two strong defensive plays nullified a leadoff single by HA’s Palmer in the fifth, but the Broncos got one back in the sixth.
Patrick Later drew a two-out walk, Sam Ward laced a single to center and Antone hit an RBI single to left.
Messalonskee cashed in on two HA errors in the seventh and received an RBI single from Warren.