BANGOR, Maine — It’s a relatively young team the Bangor Comrades will take to the American Legion baseball state tournament that begins Wednesday at The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach.
Just a handful of players on the 17-member roster have completed their high school careers.
“In the past I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to play with a lot of talented older kids,” said one of Bangor’s current elder statesmen, catcher Dylan Morris, who played as a freshman at the University of Southern Maine last spring. “This year we have a lot of young kids and they’re learning a lot about baseball. It’s great to see how they’ve grown.”
And as the Comrades have grown throughout the summer, there have been few growing pains — as evidenced by the team’s 19-2 record capped off by last week’s three-game sweep through the Zone 1 tournament to earn the program’s 11th trip to the double-elimination state finals in the last 13 years.
Bangor will open state tourney play at 7 p.m. against Zone 2 runner-up Gardiner (17-4), which edged Kennebunk 2-0 during Saturday’s play-in round at OOB.
Bangor’s run through the zone tournament featured three complete-game pitching performances by lefthander Curtis Worcester and righthanders Greg Duff and Justin Courtney. Only the University of Southern Maine-bound Worcester has graduated from high school, while Duff will be a senior at Bangor High School and Courtney a junior when classes resume.
The Comrades featured offensive balance throughout the zone tournament, with six different players having at least two hits in one of the team’s victories. Center fielder Christian Corneil led the way with a .467 (7 for 15) tournament batting average from the second spot in the order while Seth Freudenberger and Bryan Rouleau, who batted in lower third of the order, combined to score eight runs in the three games.
“That’s the way it’s been all year long,” said Bangor coach Dave Morris. “Our top hitters have been consistent, but it seems like there are those games when the top of the order is struggling and the bottom of the order takes over.”
Bangor also averaged two errors per game through the zone tournament with a defense led by Corneil and second baseman Nic Cota.
“Our motto throughout the season is that we really want to give each other our best,” said coach Morris. “If you make a mistake, we have a tendency to capitalize on that, and that’s really been a great situation for us all season long.”
Bangor is one of just three teams back from last year’s state tournament along with two-time defending state champion Pastime Club (formerly Gayton Post) of Lewiston and Fayette-Staples of Saco.
Pastime Club, featuring players from Lewiston High School, is 19-2 after winning the Zone 3 championship, and its success this summer has been anchored by a pitching staff that has allowed just 2.1 runs per game with five shutouts.
Fayette-Staples, consisting largely of players from Thornton Academy in Saco, is 15-5 after defeating Kennebunk 10-2 last week to win the Zone 5 championship.
Matching Bangor and Pastime Club for the best record entering the state tournament is Zone 2 champion Post 51 of Oakland-Fairfield, also 19-2. Post 51 is made up largely of players from the newly crowned Class A high school state championship team from Messalonskee High School of Oakland.
Two Cumberland County teams that will challenge for the state title are Zone 4 champion Biddeford-Saco Savings of Westbrook (16-5) and runner-up First Title of Portland (16-7). First Title draws players from Cheverus High School.
Zone 3 runner-up Windham (16-6) earned its spot in the field by defeating Zone 2 runner-up Brewer 4-1 in a play-in game last Saturday.
A Bangor team in search of its program’s first American Legion state championship since 1979 hopes the solid pitching and defense that has carried it this far will take the Comrades even further — perhaps even to the Northeast Regional to be held Aug. 9-13, also at The Ballpark.
“What we’ve been doing all season is preaching that we want to play at the highest level possible,” said Dylan Morris. “The zone was just a first step. We want to win the big one, the states.”
Wednesday’s schedule begins at 9:30 a.m. with Fayette-Staples against Biddeford-Saco Savings of Westbrook, followed at 12:30 p.m. by Post 51 against Windham and at 4 p.m. by Pastime Club against First Title.