BUCKSPORT — Bucksport High School senior righthander Evan Eldridge was in cruise control through six innings of the Bucks’ Eastern Maine Class B quarterfinal against Camden Hills, allowing just three hits and taking a 5-2 lead into the seventh.
But the Windjammers rallied valiantly, collecting four hits and scoring twice before Eldridge closed the door thanks to a botched safety squeeze bunt as the Bucks held on for a 5-4 triumph Thursday..
Third-seeded Bucksport, 11-6, will host seventh-seeded Hermon, 13-5 and a 3-0 winner over No. 2 seed Ellsworth, in Saturday’s semifinals.
Sixth seed Camden Hills wound up 12-5.
Keegan Pieri and Taylor Hall opened the seventh with singles and, one out later, Kyle Olehnik drew a walk to load the bases.
Chandler Crans lined a run-scoring single to center and Adam Carlsen followed with a run-scoring infield single off Eldridge’s glove and off the body of second baseman Ryan Bailey.
Eldridge got ahead of Joel Gabriele 1-2 and came in with a curve ball that Gabriele fouled off for strike three.
“It was kind of unusual to bunt with two strikes but we needed to surprise them,” said Windjammers head coach Jeff Hart. “Joel is a really good bunter and if he had gotten the ball down, we would have scored. But he didn’t get it down.”
The Bucks weren’t expecting it.
“I was surprised,” said Bucksport catcher James Potter. “I called a curve because we got (Gabriele) off-balance with one in a previous at-bat. We tried it again and the bunt worked out to our advantage.”
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Eldridge. “It wasn’t even in my mind. I saw him square around. I was happy he fouled it off.”
Isaac Grindle grounded out to end the game.
Billy DeRedin’s double and Eldridge’s single produced a first-inning run for Bucksport before Camden Hills rallied for two unearned runs in the third on an infield error, a stolen base, an error, Carlsen’s successful safety squeeze, his stolen base and Grindle’s base hit.
Bucksport answered with four runs in the bottom of the third despite hitting just one ball out of the infield.
DeRedin was hit by an Adam Landwehr pitch with one out and a walk, Eldridge’s line-drive single to left and another walk forced in the tying run. A wild pitch produced the go-ahead run and Eldridge scored when he collided with catcher Olehnik at the plate on Mike Cummings’ grounder to short and the ball popped free. A bases-loaded walk brought home the fourth run.
“I lost my control a little bit that inning. Hitting the kid with a pitch didn’t help,” said Landwehr. “There was nothing you could do on the play at the plate. Sometimes it happens. It’s the game of baseball.”:
“We needed to make a couple of plays in that inning and we didn’t. That was the difference,” said Hart.
DeRedin, Eldridge and Bailey had two hits apiece for the Bucks.
Pieri and Carlsen had two hits each for Camden Hills.
Eldridge improved to 4-4 with seven innings of seven-hit, four-run ball. Just two of the runs off him were earned. He struck out a season-high 12 and walked three.
“My two-seamer (fastball) had a lot of movement and I was able to keep my curve down,” said Eldridge, who threw 73 strikes among his 107 pitches on the steamy afternoon.
“He pitched a great game,” said Landwehr.
Landwehr pitched well in defeat, allowing seven hits and five runs. Just three of the runs were earned. He struck out eight and walked four, three coming in the third. He threw 123 pitches, 76 for strikes.
“(Landwehr) pitched very well. He battled the whole time,” said Potter.