BANGOR, Maine — Longtime best friends Zach Ireland and Zach Murray certainly looked to be on the same wavelength Saturday while leading the Bangor High School baseball team to a come-from-behind 14-6 Class A North semifinal victory over Lewiston at Mansfield Stadium.
The two seniors, who comprise the Rams’ double-play combination, each went 4-for-4 at the plate while combining for five runs scored and four RBIs as Bangor erupted for 12 runs in its final two at-bats.
“We’re like brothers,” Ireland said. “We go way back, to kindergarten, to preschool.”
Ireland had the game’s biggest blast, a bases-loaded triple to deep center field that culminated a seven-run Bangor rally in the bottom of the fifth inning and erased a 4-2 Lewiston lead.
He also had three other loud hits, a first-inning double and two singles along with a walk to pace Bangor’s 14-hit attack.
“Honestly, the ball looks like a beach ball right now,” Ireland, a University of Southern Maine-bound shortstop, said. “ I’m just seeing the ball so good right now and baseball is all about confidence.
“I think our whole team has a ton of confidence going into this next game.”
Top-ranked Bangor, the four-time defending Class A state champion, will face the only team to defeat it this season, No. 2 Oxford Hills of South Paris, for the regional championship at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Morton Field in Augusta.
Oxford Hills, which rallied past Bangor 8-5 in a regular-season encounter at South Paris on May 4 and then topped the Rams 5-0 in the recent Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship game, defeated No. 6 Mount Ararat of Topsham 5-3 in its semifinal to improve its record to 15-3.
No. 4 Lewiston, which had won its last five games and 13 of 14 since an 0-3 start, finished at 13-5.
“The better team won today, making great plays when they needed to,” said Lewiston coach Darren Hartley, whose team got three singles and two RBIs from Evan Cox and two hits apiece from Elias Atkins and Cooper Millett. “Bangor’s opportunistic. If you make a mistake they really make you pay.
“(And) the Ireland kid was incredible, he definitely deserved everything he got today.”
Murray complemented Ireland’s offensive outburst with a double, three singles, three runs scored and an RBI.
Murray also had the game’s biggest defensive play, a diving catch of a soft liner by Lewiston’s Brock Belanger after Lewiston had used three Bangor errors and a wild pitch to take a 3-1 lead with two unearned runs off Rams’ starter Karl Sund in the top of the fourth.
“We made some errors in the field but we still knew we could do it,” Murray said. “I think we have a certain mindset during games, we know we can’t get too high or too low.”
Center fielder Jacob Munroe added two singles, a sacrifice fly and four RBIs as part of a bottom third of the Bangor order with Carson Prouty and James Neel that combined for four hits, five runs scored and six RBIs.
“The bottom of our order showed some great poise in not striking out and putting the bat on the ball,” Bangor coach Dave Morris said.
Trailing 4-2, Bangor sent 11 batters to the plate in the bottom of the fifth and capitalized on five hits, two walks and a hit batsman to score seven runs. Ireland capped off the uprising with a line drive well over the head of Millett in center field that enabled Prouty, Munroe and Neel all to score and give the Rams a sudden 9-4 cushion.
“I had a ton of confidence even before the game even started,” Ireland said. “The first pitch there was a middle-in fastball and I just put it over (Millett’s) head.”
Bangor (17-1) sent 10 more batters to the plate an inning later, with Munroe’s two-run single to left the offensive highlight as the Rams added five insurance runs against a Lewiston pitching staff that had yielded just five runs in its previous eight games.
“The thing about us as a team is that we’re close-knit, we know each other so well and we know how to grind,” Murray said. “We all got together and said, ‘OK, it’s down to the crunch time so let’s go to work.’”
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