AUGUSTA, Maine — The American Legion baseball state tournament is an annual endurance test for many of the state’s top players, a five-day grind where pitching depth is tested and unsung heroes are many.
Yankee Ford ended Bangor Coffee News’ two-year hold on that championship trophy Sunday, when two Bangor coaches were ejected, with an emotional 5-4 victory over the Comrades at Morton Field — aided by a leading star turned unsung hero.
Left-hander Henry Curran, pitching for the first time in a month due to arm troubles, scattered five hits over 7⅔ innings as the South Portland-based team avenged a loss to Coffee News in last year’s state Legion final as well as Bangor High School’s victory over South Portland in the 2015 Class A championship game.
“I’ve lost to Bangor quite a few times in state championships,” said Curran, a 2015 South Portland graduate who went 2-1 in 27⅓ innings this spring at the University of Southern Maine. “So I definitely had some blood in my mouth and it was all about the revenge. I had to do it.”
First baseman Anthony Degifico had two singles and two doubles to pace Yankee Ford’s 11-hit attack against Coffee News right-hander Peter Kemble, while tournament MVP Sam Troiano added two singles and two runs scored.
The win, coming after a 7-6, ninth-inning victory over Rogers Post of Auburn earlier in the day, advances Yankee Ford (24-2) to the Northeast regional tournament that begins Wednesday in Bristol, Connecticut.
Coffee News, which featured several players with three straight high school state championships and two Legion titles to their credit, finished 21-7.
“[Yankee Ford] hit the ball when they needed to,” said Bangor coach Dave Morris, who was ejected in the fifth inning for arguing balls and strikes. “I thought it was just a great game between two teams that know each other very well, and we battled right through to the end.”
Curran threw 135 pitches before giving way to reliever Marshall Peterson.
“My fastball was working pretty well,” Curran said, “but I was missing high so I had to locate low a little bit. Once I started to figure out where the ump’s strike zone was, I think I settled in nicely.”
The left-hander had eight strikeouts, six walks and two hit batters, with most of his trouble coming at the outset of the game as he searched for his control.
Curran’s first six pitches all missed the strike zone, with Kyle Stevenson drawing a four-pitch walk and Kemble being hit by a pitch before Andrew Hillier singled through the shortstop hole and Stevenson slid to the inside of the plate to avoid the tag and give Coffee News a 1-0 lead.
Curran hit Derek Fournier with a pitch to load the bases before Nick Cowperthwaite grounded a two-run single inside the third-base bag to quickly make it 3-0.
But Curran soon settled in and did not yield another hit until the top of the seventh.
“I hadn’t even thrown a ball in a while, let alone pitch, so that was a lot of it,” he said of his first-inning struggles. “They’re a great team always, so I knew they were going to come at us.”
Yankee Ford drew within 3-2 in the third as Troiano grounded a two-out RBI single up the middle and scored when Degifico doubled down the right-field line. The Zone 3 champions tied the game an inning later on Dan Conti’s sacrifice fly to left-center.
Yankee Ford took the lead and Coffee News lost its head coach in the bottom of the fifth. Consecutive one-out singles by Troiano, Degifico and Nate Ingalls gave the team of players from South Portland and Cape Elizabeth high schools a 4-3 advantage.
Drew Abramson then drew Kemble’s first walk of the game, and when Morris then came out of the dugout he was ejected by home plate umpire Shawn Forkey.
Dylan Roberts led off the Yankee Ford sixth with a solo home run to left to make it 5-3.
After Alex Livingston walked, Coffee News assistant coach Jay Kemble went to the mound to talk to his son and when Forkey eventually went out to break up that conversation, the talk got more animated and coach Kemble was ejected, leaving Bangor with assistant coaches Kevin Stevenson and T.J. True.
“It’s tough,” said Morris. “We’re competitive just like anybody else and when you don’t get the call there’s high emotion. People have got to understand, especially umpires, that this means something. It’s not just a game. We live in a world today where you’ve always got to have the best attitude. … Just because you get upset it doesn’t mean it’s bad sportsmanship, it just means that it means something to you.
“I’m proud of the kids because we didn’t do anything disrespectful even in the times that we showed some temper, but it’s baseball and it means something to these kids.”
Peter Kemble singled to open the Coffee News seventh and reached second on an errant pickoff throw before scoring on Fournier’s two-out double down the right-field line to cut the deficit to 5-4.
The Comrades mustered one last threat in the top of the ninth, loading the bases with two outs on two walks and a hit batsman before Peterson battled back from a 3-0 count to record the game-ending strikeout.
And all that was left was for Curran to use his left arm one more time — to hoist the championship trophy.
“It feels good right now,” he said, “but it’s going to hurt in the morning. I can tell you that, for sure.”
Coffee News 300 000 100 — 3 5 0
Yankee Ford 002 111 00x — 5 11 1
Kemble and Fournier; Curran, Peterson (8) and Riggle