BANGOR, Maine — Reid Howland was merely looking to hit a fly ball as he stepped to the plate in the top of the seventh inning Saturday.
What came off his bat was even better — an RBI single through a drawn-in infield that produced the only run of the game as Greely High School of Cumberland Center edged Caribou 1-0 to win the Class B baseball state championship at Mansfield Stadium.
That run provided just enough support for senior lefthander Connor Russell, whose five-hit pitching lifted Greely (17-3) to its first state crown since 2009.
Caribou, which rode a series of narrow victories from the No. 7 seed in Eastern Maine to its first regional title, ended its season at 14-7.
“Whoever we got to play here we were going to give everything we had,” said Howland, a junior catcher, “but it was definitely an impressive effort by Caribou, too.”
Greely had managed just one hit off crafty Caribou righthander Sean Sadler through six innings, but pinch-hitter Will Bryant opened the Rangers’ seventh by popping a single toward the right-field line, just beyond the reach of Vikings’ right fielder Mason Huck and second baseman Michael Hunter.
Miles Shields sacrificed Bryant to second before Pat O’Shea beat out a chopper toward third base to put runners on first and third with one out.
Howland worked the count full before cleanly lining a single to right field to drive home Bryant and break the scoreless stalemate.
“I was just looking to get something in the air in the outfield to get a [sacrifice] fly,” said Howland, “but I battled and we got to a 3-2 count and the pitch was low and away so I just went with it and found the gap.”
Sadler escaped further damage despite hitting Tom Buchholz to load the bases with two outs as he retired the side on a fielder’s choice groundout by Sam Porter.
“It was 3-2 and I threw a fastball,” said Sadler of his seven-pitch battle with Howland. “I knew I should have mixed it up but it was what I wanted to go with because I didn’t want to put myself in a bases-loaded, one-out jam.”
Russell faced just three batters in the bottom of the seventh, with a leadoff single by Cody Herbert erased by a game-ending double play.
The junior left-hander pitched his second straight postseason shutout — striking out five batters and walking just one while throwing 93 pitches, 60 for strikes — for a Greely pitching staff that did not allow a run during the playoffs and ended the season with 39 consecutive scoreless innings.
“During the regular season we don’t see a lot of lefties,” said Herbert, “so seeing him come with that big curveball was tough for a couple of our hitters. He was just a good overall pitcher.”
Russell (6-1) needed to hold Caribou scoreless in order for Greely to win, because Sadler (3-2) virtually matched him pitch for pitch through six innings.
The senior righthander struck out two, walked two and hit a batter while yielding just four singles during his 83-pitch complete game.
“I heard they were one of the top teams in the West and I thought, ‘Whoa, I’ve got to get everything going right off,’” said Sadler. “I haven’t really thrown my knuckleball all year long but today I had it going. It was just dancing all over the place.
“I got in a zone early but ended up losing a tough one.”
Caribou’s best scoring threat may have come during the first inning, only to be turned away by the defensive play of the game.
Dustin Bouchard reached on a one-out infield error and tried to advance to third on Matt Milliard’s single to right, only to have Greely’s University of Massachusetts-bound pitching ace Bailey Train — who was playing right field after pitching in Wednesday’s Western B final — throw him out with a perfect one-bounce strike to Porter at third base.
“That was a huge momentum shift,” said Russell. “If there’s a runner on third in the first inning that takes the momentum away from us, but the fact [Train] was able to come up and gun that guy down — he’s got the strongest arm in the state.”
The Vikings advanced just one more runner into scoring position, that coming after two were out in the fifth when Matt Manter singled to left-center and reached third base on back-to-back wild pitches before Russell induced an inning-ending groundout.
“It was intense all the way,” said Sadler. “Our team was grinding, their team was grinding, it just came down to the last inning and that’s how a championship game is supposed to be played.”