The Maine Senior American Legion championship largely has been the domain of the state’s larger cities over the years. Since the turn of the century, teams featuring players from the Portland, Bangor and Lewiston areas have captured 17 of the 19 state titles.
But as this year’s Northeast Regional begins Wednesday at Fitton Field in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, the Maine representative may have played home games in Bangor but has a smaller-town culture around it.
Quirk Motor City has no players from Class A high school programs. While it features six players from reigning Class B state champion Old Town High School including Tanner Evans, the state Legion tournament’s most valuable player, the roster also has seven Class D products.
That latter group includes two starters in outfielder Alex Tash of Penobscot Valley High School in Howland and pitcher-infielder Silas Graham, a student at Greater Houlton Christian Academy who played baseball this spring at Hodgdon High School. Tash is batting .476 with 22 stolen bases this summer, while Graham is 6-0 on the mound with a 1.89 earned run average.
The other players with Class D pedigrees, Kaiden Crowley of Jonesport-Beals High School and the University of Maine at Presque Isle, Josh Thomas of Central Aroostook of Mars Hill, Jason Libby and Kaeden Robert of Bangor Christian and Jack Morris of Stearns of Millinocket, also have seen considerable duty throughout the Legion season.
Both head coaches also come from Class D programs, with John Frye leading Searsport to its fifth state championship in the last six seasons this spring and Ryan Lincoln guiding Penobscot Valley to its fourth postseason berth in as many years on the job with the Howlers .
“Not a lot of people expected us to be here, but at the end of the day, it’s the family culture that does it for us,” Lincoln said. “We might not be the most talented team, but I’m going to tell you right now, we’re the team that’s going to go out there and grit it out.”
It’s a collective biography that has allowed Quirk Motor City to thrive in the role of underdog this summer against foes from larger high school programs even though it takes an 18-3 record into Wednesday’s 4:30 p.m. regional tourney opener against Beverly, Massachusetts, a first-time state Senior Legion champion.
The success should not be a surprise. Quirk Motor City captured the Junior Legion state championship in 2019 and last summer won the championship of the Maine Independent League, established after the American Legion season was canceled due to COVID-19.
That chemistry is reflected in a deep, versatile roster led by the Husson University-bound Evans, who is batting .578, including .750 (9 of 12) with five doubles as Quirk Motor City went 4-0 during the state tournament and now has won 18 of its last 19 games after an 0-2 start.
After rarely pitching during the regular season, the right-hander held the top-ranked Bangor Comrades — a team featuring players from the Bangor High School team that advanced to this year’s Class A state final — to one run on five hits with six strikeouts during a complete-game 2-1 victory on Day 2 at states. Later in the tournament, he moved behind the plate from his usual shortstop slot to shut down Central Maine of Fairfield’s running game.
The Riverkings were 8-for-8 on stolen-base tries against Quirk Motor City through three innings of their first winners’-bracket clash before Evans moved behind the plate. He threw out both runners who attempted to steal during the rest of his team’s 8-6 victory. Central Maine never attempted a steal on him during Quirk Motor City’s 10-0 championship win the next day.
Quirk Motor City also got strong pitching performances from Matt Seymour (3-0), Michael Brown (3-1) and Crowley (4-2, 2.69 ERA) during the tournament, and the team still had Graham rested if it needed him for an if-necessary game.
“This core of guys from Motor City has pretty much stuck together for the last couple of years,” Evans said. “Whether it’s been Senior Legion or Junior Legion, we’re just a tight-knit group of guys. We’ve got good chemistry.”