AUGUSTA, Maine — Not only had Tyler Parke not homered since Little League, he hadn’t mustered a single hit in his previous eight at-bats atop the Bangor High School batting order.
So after batting a team-leading .491 during the regular season, there was a sense the Rams’ senior catcher and leadoff hitter might be due for something big as he approached the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning of Tuesday’s Class A North baseball final.
The bases were loaded with one out in a 1-1 tie against Oxford Hills of South Paris, but one pitch later both Parke’s home run drought and hitless streak ended with a single swing of the bat — a walk-off grand slam that gave Bangor a stunning 5-1 victory and its fifth consecutive regional crown.
“I felt like I was due, but I was just up there doing my job,” said Parke. “After going 0-for 8 I was just up there to hit the ball and hit the ball hard.
“Before I got up there I stepped out of the box and saw the middle infielders playing back a little bit and the guys at first and third were in a little bit, but at the end of the day when I hit the ball it didn’t matter.”
Top-seeded Bangor (18-1) will attempt to win a state-record fifth consecutive state championship Saturday (1 p.m. at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish) against South champ Gorham, which beat Cheverus of Portland 3-2 on Tuesday night.
No. 2 Oxford Hills, which handed Bangor its only loss of the regular season on May 4 and also defeated the Rams 5-0 in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A championship game on June 2, finished 15-4.
Zach Murray opened the Bangor seventh by being hit by a Colton Carson pitch and Carson Prouty walked as Carson reached the 110-pitch limit and had to leave the game.
A sacrifice by Nick Canarr put runners at second and third, then Jacob Munroe was walked intentionally to load the bases.
James Neel took a called third strike from OH reliever Wyatt Williamson before Parke ripped the first pitch he saw, a high fastball, over the right-center field fence some 350 feet away.
“I knew all I needed to do was hit a single but I hit it hard and saw it was in the air and I hadn’t hit a home run up until that point so I didn’t really know what it was like,” said Parke.
Parke’s blast ended what had been a masterful pitching duel between Carson and Bangor’s Zach Cowperthwaite, both junior right-handers.
Carson struck out 14, walked two and hit two batters while yielding just two hits through six-plus innings.
“The only thing I can say right now is I think the kid pitched one of the best games I’ve ever seen pitched,” said Bangor coach Dave Morris.
Cowperthwaite was even more efficient, striking out five batters and walking one while allowing two hits during his 84-pitch complete game — meaning he’s eligible to pitch in Saturday’s state final.
“(Carson) was throwing an unreal game,” said Cowperthwaite. “At points I got nervous but Parke was calling a great game and I knew my defense was going to make the plays.”
Cowperthwaite took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Oxford Hills scored its only run. Williamson hit a leadoff double down the left-field line and pinch-runner Ty LeBlond was sacrificed to third by Jonny Pruett and scored the game’s first run on Cam Slicer’s sacrifice fly to right.
With Carson striking out 12 batters and yielding just one opposite-field single to Bangor shortstop Zach Ireland through five innings, that run looked like it might be enough to dethrone the Rams.
But Bangor scratched out an unearned run in the bottom of the sixth, beginning when Neel hit a bouncer back to Carson, only to have the pitcher’s throw to first go in the dirt.
Neel, a freshman, reached second base on the play, then stole third as the Oxford Hills defense was focusing on bunt defense.
Carson struck out the next two batters before Noah Missbrenner pulled a grounder off the glove of first baseman Ashton Kennison and into right field for a game-tying single.
“I’d been struggling a lot,” said Missbrenner, a junior first baseman. “I was just trying to hit it hard somewhere and make them make a play. I hit it down the line and it worked out fine after James stole third, which was a big play.”
Cowperthwaite retired Oxford Hills 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh, and soon the tradition-laden Rams were right where they wanted to be, with the game on the line and one of their leaders at the plate.
“I think Tyler wanted to be in that situation,” said Morris. “He saw that pitch and he hit it. We’re just glad there wasn’t any question about where it was going.”