BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor High School varsity baseball team opened its season back in late April with a loss.
Maybe the Rams were just getting the negativity out of their system, because such disappointment has been rare this summer for the players who made up the bulk of that roster, as well as Bangor’s American Legion baseball squad.
As the latter team boarded a bus Wednesday bound for Middletown, Connecticut — site of the American Legion baseball Northeast Regional — it marked the continuation of a memorable season.
First the high school team finished 18-2 to earn its first Class A state championship since 2006.
Then the city’s Legion team followed that up with a 23-5 record, good for its first state American Legion crown since 1979. The Bangor Comrades outscored their opposition by a combined 36-8 while winning five of six games in the state tournament, held in the Queen City for the first time since 2005.
“This was our goal, even before high school season started, to win both,” pitcher-first baseman Trevor DeLaite said.
DeLaite and the rest of the Bangor squad play Cheshire, Connecticut, on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in the Northeast Regional opener.
“We knew we had the team,” DeLaite added. “We knew we had talent enough to do it.”
Bangor’s high school and Legion state championship-clinching victories came by shutout. Justin Courtney took a no-hitter into the final inning of Bangor High’s 8-0 win over Windham, and DeLaite and Andrew Hillier combined to two-hit Bessey Motors of South Paris during a 2-0 win in Sunday’s state Legion final.
Those similar endings were more than coincidence.
“Having Justin and Trevor and Cuppy (Hillier) and some great relief pitchers can take you pretty far,” said infielder Sam Huston, whose two-run double in the sixth inning delivered the only runs of the Legion championship game. “The majority of our team can pitch and pitch well and would be key pitchers on any other team, but since we have so many they just don’t all pitch.
“There’s that old saying that ‘defense wins championships,’ and if the other team doesn’t score they can’t win,” he added.
The two Bangor teams are a combined 41-7 since the start of the high school season.
“It’s crazy. I can’t believe we’ve played that many games,” catcher Hunter Boyce said. “This team loves to play the game, and I feel like we come out and play hard every day.”
The veteran players on the two teams had an immediate hurdle to surmount during the high school season as Bangor lost its first-round game each of the two previous years.
“This year, we just had a different mindset,” DeLaite said. “We knew we had a good team and had a lot of confidence.”
That confidence proved well-founded. Coach Jeff Fahey’s club finished the regular season atop the Eastern Maine Class A Heal points, then overcame a regional semifinal scare in a 1-0 victory over Cony of Augusta to win the state title.
That title run was seen as a blessing and a curse, as the majority of the core players on that team turned their attention to ending a 35-year American Legion title drought.
“It kind of gave us good experience,” Hillier, the Legion state tournament MVP, said of the high school season. “But at the same time, it put pressure on us to win (the Legion title). And if we didn’t, it would have been a huge letdown.
“Our goals were to win states and get better every pitch, and that’s what we did.”
That pursuit of pitch-by-pitch development was a fundamental part of Legion head coach Dave Morris’ philosophy with his team.
“I think our biggest goal was to walk some stepping stones and to keep getting better at everything we do each day, and I mean that literally,” said Morris, who also is an assistant coach at Bangor during the high school season. “The kids really focused on the process. We just didn’t put our eyes on a state championship or even a zone championship. We really looked at it from the perspective of how much better could we get each day.”
Bangor hopes to use the same approach to advance in a double-elimination Northeast Regional that begins with a clash against Cheshire, a first-time Connecticut state champion (31-11).
No matter how Bangor fares in the Legion regional, which runs through next Monday, 2014 will linger as a banner period in the city’s baseball history.
“It’s a great day for Bangor baseball,” Courtney, who will pitch at the University of Maine next season, said. “The Junior Legion team won the state championship, we won the state championship, we won a high school state championship and our Senior League team is playing in the World Series. It doesn’t get any better than that.”