After a 59-year drought, the long wait is over for the South Portland High School baseball program.
Coach Mike Owens’ club used a literal walk-off — a bases-loaded base on balls — in the bottom of the seventh inning to edge Bangor 3-2 on Saturday at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish and capture its first Class A state championship since 1952.
“With how many Division players and MLB players [such as former UMaine and San Francisco Giants pitcher Billy Swift] we’ve had at our school and for us to be the first to really do it, it feels so amazing,” said South Portland center fielder Bradley McMains, one of seven seniors on the roster.
South Portland ended its season with a 16-5 record while Bangor, which was bidding for a sixth state title in the last seven years high school baseball has been played in the state, finished 14-7.
“It’s a state championship game and it’s going to come down to some inches,” Bangor coach Dave Morris said. “We had a couple of tough breaks there and some opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on, but all credit goes to South Portland. They did a great job.”
Senior Frank Tierney, who entered the contest in left field during a South Portland pitching change to start the sixth inning, reached base with one out in the bottom of the seventh on a wide throw to first base after his bunt down the third-base line.
McMains doubled to center field and Connor Dobson was walked intentionally to load the bases.
Sophomore first baseman Richard Gilboy worked Bangor senior left-hander Bradley McLaughlin to a full count, then fouled off one pitch before taking ball four, forcing Tierney home with the winning run.
“The last pitch, I saw it going in a little outside and thought it might be called a strike, but then I saw it drop down and I knew it was over,” Gilboy said.
Starting third baseman Andrew Heffernan, another sophomore, pitched in relief of South Portland starter Nolan Hobbs and earned the win with two scoreless innings.
“It’s definitely a role I embrace,” said Heffernan, a right-hander who has worked both in relief and as a starter this spring. “I just trust my pitches and trust my defense and execute the pitches.”
Bangor got a heroic effort in defeat from McLaughlin, who had retired all 13 batters he faced two days earlier during a 4 1/3-inning relief stint as the Rams defeated Skowhegan in the Class A North final.
McLaughlin scattered seven hits during a 102-pitch complete-game performance against South Portland, striking out four and walking three while allowing two earned runs.
“He pitched an unbelievable game, one of the best state-game pitching efforts I’ve ever seen,” Morris said. “He showed a lot of guts. There were opportunities for them to open the game up early on and he closed them down. He’s just a winner.”
South Portland took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on Gilboy’s RBI double to deep center field. That drove home McMains, who hit a leadoff single and was sacrificed to second by Dobson.
Bangor mounted its first threat in the top of the second. Keegan Cyr singled and reached second on a wild pitch, then Max Clark lined a one-out single to left field, but South Portland’s Ryan Thurber threw out Cyr at the plate.
It was the first of two Bangor baserunners cut down at home.
“Early on that was more of my fault just being aggressive,” said Morris, who was coaching at third base. “But you know what? That’s what we’ve been doing all year long and we’re not going to change. The kid made a great throw, give credit to him.”
Bangor tied the game in the top of the fourth as Cyr reached on a throwing error, was sacrificed to second by McLaughlin and went to third on Clark’s groundout to second base before scoring on a wild pitch.
South Portland regained the lead in the bottom of the inning on a two-out double by Thurber, a wild pitch and an RBI single to center by Heffernan.
Bangor had two runners in scoring position with no one out in the fifth, but South Portland turned a unique double play to emerge unscathed.
Matt Holmes struck out on a wild pitch for the second out, but as catcher Dreifus threw to first base to retire Holmes, Ben Caron raced home from third base, only to have Gilboy quickly throw to Hobbs covering the plate for the inning-ending tag of the sliding runner.