This spring’s open high school baseball tournament — a concession to the lingering impact of COVID-19 — has added another playoff game for most teams around the state.
But for Bangor High School left-hander Bradley McLaughlin, Tuesday evening’s Class A North Round of 16 matchup against Mt. Ararat of Topsham truly was just another contest.
The senior allowed just two Eagles to reach base over six innings while striking out five and walking no one as the fifth-seeded Rams jumped out to an early lead and cruised to a 9-3 victory over No. 12 Mt. Ararat at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor.
“We can’t let the playoffs get in our heads,” McLaughlin said. “Our coach always says that with the playoffs it’s just the exterior that’s different. Other than that it’s just another baseball game.”
McLaughlin (6-2) began the night having allowed only two earned runs and five walks over 44 2/3 innings this spring, and little was different in this win-or-go-home contest.
He yielded a run in the top of the first as Ryan Robertson blasted a leadoff triple to the right-center field gap and scored on an overthrow to third base. But just one more runner reached base against him and was quickly erased on a 4-6-3 double play that ended the top of the second.
That twin killing produced the first two of 14 straight outs recorded by McLaughlin to conclude his evening on the mound, as he threw only 69 pitches before Garrett Courtney came on to work the seventh.
That means McLaughlin could start again in Saturday’s regional semifinals, if Bangor can get past Thursday’s quarterfinal at No. 4 Camden Hills of Rockport.
“I have a lot of trust in my fielders,” McLaughlin said. “A lot of them are good friends and I’ve played baseball with some of them for quite a while. If I didn’t trust them I couldn’t just go out there and throw strikes.”
Bangor (11-6) made one error behind McLaughlin.
“It’s going to be pitching and defense, we’ve been preaching that all year long,” Bangor coach Dave Morris said. “You want to play well in playoff games, and I thought we played well.”
McLaughlin also could trust an opportunistic Bangor offense that erased the early deficit with five runs in the bottom of the first on two hits, two walks and three errors.
Junior right fielder Max Clark, the team leader with 15 regular-season runs batted in, had the big hit of the uprising, a two-run ground single up the middle.
The Rams stretched their advantage to 9-1 with four runs in the bottom of the third. Colton Trisch got that rally going by speeding out an opposite-field triple to the gap in right-center, then scored on Ryan Howard’s sharp single to left.
Luke Missbrenner walked, then Ben Caron had a sacrifice bunt that was thrown into right field, enabling Howard to score. Two wild pitches plated Missbrenner and Caron to give Bangor an eight-run cushion.
Kobe Clark came on in relief for Mt. Ararat after Caron’s misplayed sacrifice, and after the early wild pitches he quickly settled down to shut Bangor out on one hit over four innings.
Tucker Swanson singled twice for the 4-11 Eagles, including the second of back-to-back RBI singles along with teammate Landen Chase in the top of the seventh.
Howard had two singles and two RBIs among Bangor’s six hits in the contest. Matt Holmes added a double.
“The most important thing is that this was these guys’ first playoff game and we did some little things really well,” Morris said. “We played great defense and pitched well, put the ball in play and had some timely hits.”