BANGOR — Forgive the Bangor Christian baseball team if it isn’t too sympathetic about the 75-mile trip players and coaches from Katahdin of Stacyville face Tuesday to square off against the Patriots in the Eastern Maine Class D baseball final at Mansfield Stadium.
For seventh-seeded Bangor Christian, this postseason run already has been what second-year coach Mike Poulin describes as “the amazing race” — including a 36-hour odyssey in which the Patriots sandwiched two playoff games in Aroostook County with graduation back in Bangor one night and the school’s annual senior banquet the following evening.
The team’s two bus trips, the first to Mars Hill and the second to Saint Agatha, totaled 720 miles, but two victories helped ease the fatigue as Bangor Christian now prepares for a quick drive across town for the first regional final in the program’s history.
“Aaron Wilcox [who has coached BC to the last two Class D soccer state titles] drove the bus for our two trips,” said Poulin, “and his joke is he’s going to drive us down to Portland and back before our next game.”
Here’s Bangor Christian’s road to the final:
The team left Bangor at 8 a.m. Friday for a 1 p.m. game at Mars Hill against defending Eastern D champion Central Aroostook, a game that went eight innings before BC scored an 8-6 upset.
“When it went into extra innings, I thought it was going to be tough to get back before graduation at 6 o’clock,” said Poulin. “But some of the parents were ready to drive the seniors home in cars right after the game to get them back a little sooner, so we shook hands and said a prayer for speed for the kids to make it back for graduation safely, and they got there in time.”
Poulin, who has a son, Rem, on the baseball team and a daughter, Grace, who was graduating from BC on Friday night, rode home on the bus with the rest of the team to complete that 280-mile round trip, and “right before I sat down at graduation, the processional started.”
After some post-graduation gatherings that lasted well into the evening, the team got back onto the bus at 6:30 a.m. Saturday for the even longer trip to the Saint John Valley for a 1:30 p.m. game against Wisdom High School.
This time the Patriots didn’t have to go extra innings to earn a 6-3 victory, but the postgame dash for the highways was repeated as the seniors boarded cars and Poulin and the rest of the team hopped on the bus for the 220-mile ride home.
The banquet, originally scheduled for 6 p.m., was pushed back two hours to accommodate the seniors on the team, just enough of a delay for the Patriots to get back to Bangor, change clothes and arrive on time.
“I got there three minutes late,” said Poulin, “and the last senior made it just before his name was called. It was beautiful.”
It also was an example — albeit extreme — of the sacrifices made by young athletes in northern and eastern Maine in order to compete in postseason play, particularly during the spring when school-related schedule conflicts abound.
“People don’t appreciate what Class D kids have to do to compete in sports and still be involved in their school and be able to study,” said Poulin, who lives in Dover-Foxcroft and is a math teacher at Brewer High School. “In Class D most of the teams are from Down East or the County, and then there are a couple of us that are in between. Everyone has to travel a lot, that’s just the way it is.”
The Patriots’ travel itinerary should be less complicated for their next game, in which Bangor Christian (10-8) will face No. 1 Katahdin (13-3) for the third time this season.
“We didn’t even realize until after the [Wisdom] game that we were going to the championship,” said Poulin. “We didn’t have time to think about it.”
This will mark Katahdin’s first road trip of the postseason. The Cougars, seeking their first regional title since 2008, earned home-field victories over No. 8 Shead of 7-3 in the quarterfinals and No. 4 Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook 4-3 in the semifinals.
Both finalists have their aces ready, with Katahdin’s Brandon Robinson and BC’s Tyler Alexander each owning a win over the other team already this spring. Alexander no-hit the Cougars 5-1 at Bangor on May 19, while Robinson shut out the Patriots 10-0 at Stacyville on May 27.
“It should be a good pitchers’ game if both pitchers come out pitching their best,” Poulin said.