HAMPDEN, Maine — Four previous at-bats Friday afternoon produced minimal results for Hampden Academy senior shortstop Cooper Antone.
But given an additional opportunity when the batter before him was intentionally walked with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Antone delivered an opposite-field single that drove home Matt Closson with the winning run as the Broncos outlasted Bangor 4-3 in a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference baseball matchup at Bordick Park.
With the win Hampden (4-0) remains the only undefeated team in Eastern Maine Class A through the first two weeks of the regular season, while Bangor dips to 3-2 after losing for the second time in its last three games.
“It kind of feels good, we haven’t been in this position before,” said Antone. “And it’s good to get that big win under our belts.”
Bangor reliever Andrew Hillier retired the first two Hampden batters in the ninth before Closson doubled to the left-center field gap — the Broncos’ first hit since the third inning.
After No. 9 hitter Nick Rodgerson was issued an intentional walk to set up a force play, Antone flared an 0-1 curveball to shallow right field and Closson raced home to give coach McLean Poulin’s club the dramatic victory.
“I was nervous at first,” said Antone, a four-year starter who had gone 0-for-4 at the plate over the first eight innings. “I saw that first curveball and let it go by, and he hung me another one and I popped it over the first baseman’s head. I leaned out toward [the pitch], waited a little bit and just went with it.”
Hampden persevered despite being outhit 9-5, as Bangor stranded 11 baserunners compared to seven left on base by the Broncos, two after the winning run scored.
“We’ve kind of been preaching to our kids to finish games, and we really didn’t do that today,” said Bangor coach Jeff Fahey. “When you look at the scoreboard and we had three [runs], nine [hits] and one [error] and they had four, five and five, I’m not going to say we outplayed them but we played well enough to win.”
Bangor first baseman Anthony Capuano was the game’s lone repeat hitter, reaching base in all five of his plate appearances via three singles and two walks to go with an RBI and a run scored.
Sophomore righthander Tristan Gardner earned the pitching win, allowing one run on four hits in four innings of relief of starter Matt Palmer. Gardner’s first two pitches of his appearance went for back-to-back doubles by Tyler LaPlante and Sam Huston that enabled Bangor to forge a 3-3 tie, but he held the Rams scoreless the rest of the way — escaping a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the seventh.
“That was a big momentum boost for us and maybe it took the wind out of their sails a little bit,” said Hampden coach McLean Poulin. “It also gave Tristan a lot of confidence that he could pound the zone and know that his defense would make the plays.”
Gardner retired Bangor in order in the eighth, then got out of a two-on, one-out jam in the ninth unscathed.
“We hit the ball well at times, but some of our better hitters left guys on,” said Fahey. “Last year we’d pick up a base hit or a fly ball or a ground ball to get those runners in, but pop-ups aren’t going to help us.”
This marked the first meeting between the rivals since No. 8 Hampden upset top-ranked Bangor 3-2 in 11 innings during their Eastern A quarterfinal last spring, and both teams held the lead early in their first meeting this spring.
Hampden struck first with an unearned run in the bottom of the first after loading the bases with no one out against Bangor starter Justin Courtney.
Antone reached on an infield error, Logan Steward was hit by a pitch and Palmer singled to right, but only Antone scored — on a wild pitch — as Courtney struck out the next three batters.
Bangor took a 2-1 lead in the top of the third. Freshman shortstop Kyle Stevenson drew a leadoff walk, Farnham singled and a wild pitch put both runners in scoring position. Capuano followed with a one-out single to center, with Stevenson scoring but Farnham being cut down at the plate on a throw by Rodgerson from medium center field.
Capuano went to second on the play, advanced to third on a single to right by Brendan Moore and stole home for the go-ahead run after Palmer tried to pick off Moore on a close play at first base.
Hampden countered immediately. Steward hit a one-out single to left in the bottom of the third and Palmer walked, and after Steward stole third base both runners came home on Michael Ward’s two-out double to right.
Both starting pitchers were effective in their second starts of the spring. Courtney allowed three hits and two earned runs over six innings with nine strikeouts, two walks and a hit batter. Palmer yielded two earned runs on five hits in five innings with five strikeouts and three walks.