The rapid-fire American Legion Zone 1 regular season is approaching its end, barely a month after its beginning.
And a new playoff format has provided yet another battle for postseason position.
There is the quest for the regular-season title, as well as the goal of securing one of the sixth available berths in the Zone 1 tournament, which begins July 23.
But with the top two teams earning first-round byes for the first time this summer, there is the additional goal of finishing either first or second— which would mean more pitching depth in subsequent rounds of the zone tourney, and one less postseason win required to advance to the state tournament.
Brewer (13-3) and defending Zone 1 champion Hampden (12-4) currently rank 1-2 in the standings, each with four games left including their second meeting of the summer Thursday evening at Bordick Park in Hampden.
Coach Chris Morris’ Brewer club, which has been able to stay near the top of the standings despite the loss of standout outfielder Billy Bissell to a knee injury, defeated the Riverdogs 11-7 in their earlier clash at Heddericg Field in Brewer on July 2.
A Brewer win in the rematch would give the Falcons a two-game lead heading into the final weekend of the regular season, while a Hampden victory could leave as many as four teams within one game of each other in the loss column.
Brewer concludes its season with a doubleheader against 7-9 Calais on Saturday and a nine-inning contest against 9-7 Trenton on Sunday. Hampden hosts 3-12 Orono for two games Saturday, then faces 12-5 Steamboat Petroleum of Waldo County on Sunday.
Both Steamboat Petroleum and Bangor (10-5) also remain contenders for a first-round bye, though both may need help to claim the No. 1 seed since neither has a game remaining against Brewer.
Steamboat Petroleum is idle Thursday before hosting 3-12 Penquis for two games Saturday and visiting Hampden on Sunday.
Bangor hosts Calais on Thursday and then 5-10 Lincoln for a doubleheader on Saturday before ending its season at Orono on Sunday. Bangor and Orono first will complete a game that was suspended after 6½ innings on June 21 with the teams locked in a 5-5 tie, then square off in a regularly scheduled nine-inning contest.
Trenton has its postseason fate in its own control, currently sitting three games ahead of seventh place with four games remaining. The Acadians are at Penquis on Thursday, then visit 7-10 Motor City of Bangor for a doubleheader Saturday before playing at Brewer on Sunday.
Calais enters Thursday’s action in sixth place, but faces a rigorous schedule in its bid to qualify for the zone tournament. The Suns visit Bangor on Thursday, then are at Brewer for two games Saturday before hosting Lincoln on Sunday.
Motor City, just one-half game behind Calais, is at Orono on Thursday before ending its season with a doubleheader against Trenton on Saturday in Bangor.
Presque Isle (6-10) and Lincoln also are still alive, and face each other in back-to-back games Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Presque Isle then hosts Penquis in a doubleheader Sunday, while Lincoln has a three-day road weekend with a doubleheader at Bangor on Saturday and a single game at Calais on Sunday.
Penquis and Orono remained mathematically alive entering Thursday’s games but in desperate need of assistance.
The Zone 1 tournament follows July 23-26 at the Winkin Baseball Complex at Bangor’s Husson University.
Opening-day play will involve two play-in games, with No. 4 vs. No. 5 at 4 p.m. followed by No. 3 at No. 6 at 7 p.m.
Thursday’s survivors will join the top two seeds in a four-team, double-elimination event, with the zone champion and runnerup to advance to the state tournament July 29-Aug. 2 at Augusta.
Wildcatters honor founder
Sterling Harriman, who founded the Waldo County American Legion baseball team 25 years ago and was the program’s first head coach, was honored by the Steamboat Petroleum Wildcatters of Waldo County before Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss to Brewer at Searsport High School.
Harriman, who is battling cancer, received an autographed baseball and a hat from the team.
“He started it, he coached it, he raised all the money and he still donates to the team,” said Emery Shute, who was an assistant for two years before taking over as head coach and spending 12 years in that capacity.
Shute stepped down after last season and was replaced by Bain Pollard.
“Sterling’s a good guy. He really looks out for the kids,” said Shute. “He loves baseball. He has always been involved but he has never been the type of guy who tells you how to do things.”
According to Shute, Harriman, a Stockton Springs native, spent several years working at the St. Regis paper mill in Bucksport before going to work at Belfast Area High School where had a variety of duties including bus driver and custodian.
He retired in December.