Quirk Motor City is one step closer to capturing the state Senior American Legion baseball championship.
The Bangor-based team defeated the Central Maine River Hawks of Fairfield 8-6 in a winners’ bracket game at Husson University on Wednesday.
Quirk Motor City, now 17-3 overall and 3-0 in the eight-team, double-elimination state tournament, will face Central Maine again in Thursday’s championship round after Central Maine edged Augusta 3-2 in Wednesday’s late elimination game.
The two finalists will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday with Quirk Motor City needing just one victory to advance to the Northeast Regional tournament that begins next Wednesday in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.
If Central Maine wins the 5 p.m. game, the teams would play a second, winner-take-all game to crown the state champion.
Wednesday’s Quirk Motor City-Central Maine meeting got off to a wild start, with Quirk Motor City spotting Central Maine a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, then answering with five runs on six consecutive hits in the bottom of the inning.
Central Maine responded with four runs in the top of the second and another run in the third to gain a 6-5 lead before two crucial lineup moves helped Quirk Motor City finally gain control.
The first was the insertion of Kaiden Crowley, a left-hander from Jonesport and the University of Maine at Presque Isle. He relieved starter Michael Brown in the second inning and limited Central Maine (17-4, 2-1 in tourney play) to one run over five innings before Matt Seymour earned a two-out save.
Crowley had been waiting patiently for his turn to pitch in the tournament and did expect to see action Wednesday — though perhaps not quite as early.
“Coach [Ryan Lincoln] just told me to come prepared to throw,” Crowley said. “His plan wasn’t to start me, but if he needed me he said I’d come in. I just came prepared and was ready to go into any situation. I like the pressure, and we came out on top today.”
The other big move was the shift of starting shortstop Tanner Evans to catcher in the top of the fourth, after Central Maine had stolen eight bases in as many attempts during the first three innings.
Evans threw out Jacob Thomas trying to steal second with one out in the fourth and also threw out the only other Central Maine baserunner to attempt to steal against him in the contest.
“When Tanner went in to catch I knew that was going to change their run game.” said Lincoln, who coaches the team with John Frye. “That changed the complexion of the game completely.”
Evans, one of five players on the Quirk Motor City roster from Class B state champion Old Town High School, also drove home the winning run with a ground-rule double that delivered Joe DiAngelo with the second of three runs scored by the winners in the bottom of the fourth.
Jason Libby opened the inning with a single off Central Maine reliever Matthew Berry but was forced out at second on a chopper by Crowley. DiAngelo then singled to center, and the runners advanced to second and third on a wild pitch.
Crowley scored as Alex Tash reached on an infield error to tie the game at 6-6, then Evans launched a first-pitch blast to deep left, driving home DiAngelo to give QMC the lead but leaving Tash at third base as the ball one-hopped the fence.
“I thought it would be one big hit that was going to get us rolling,” Lincoln said. “We got a couple of guys on and Tanner hit that ground-rule double and after that we finally inflated back up.”
Tash scored the game’s final run as Silas Graham reached on a fielder’s choice.
Evans also singled twice while pacing Quirk Motor City’s 12-hit attack, as the winners got at least one hit from all nine positions in the batting order.
Graham had a double and a single, while Ben Spear contributed a two-run single and Casey Downs added a run-scoring squeeze bunt for a single during QMC’s five-run first inning,
Central Maine also amassed 12 hits, with Jimmy Reed hitting a two-run triple and a single and Hunter McEwen, Zeb Tibbetts and Nate Bickford adding two singles apiece.