STANDISH—Bangor wrung a five-run lead out of Gorham in the top of the first on Saturday afternoon, June 16, but the South-repping Rams charged back in the bottom of the stretch, with Nolan Brown driving a three-RBI triple into leftfield. Brown later scored – in the third – to give his boys the lead at 6-5; alas, that’s where the North-repping Rams seized control for good, slowly, over the next four innings, building to a 10-6 victory and their fifth (yes, fifth!) consecutive Maine crown.
“No,” said Gorham senior Captain Brogan McDonald, asked if his team felt intimidated, heading into battle vs. a towering dynasty. “We knew we just had to play our game. It’s funny because I asked Benny at practice the day before if he were nervous for us or himself and he said ‘I don’t care what we do. All I know is we’re gonna go out there and have [expletive] fun.’ So it was reassuring to hear somebody like Benny, who’s a real serious kid and leader, say that.” By “Benny,” McDonald means Ben Nelson, another senior Captain.
“They were relentless,” Gorham head coach Chuck Nadeau said of Bangor. “They tested our pitching depth. Up and down the lineup, one through nine, I thought they had guys who could get big hits. And they did it today.”
Gorham (again, call them the “South-repping Rams,” or maybe just the “Southern Rams,” since Bangor are also “the Rams”) thus concludes a stellar season at 15-5. The team barreled 12-4 through the regular season, finishing second – good enough for a bye through the playoff prelims – before upending Thornton 3-1 in the quarters, Portland 9-6 in the semis and Cheverus 3-2 in the Regional Final.
“No,” McDonald reiterated, asked if Gorham did anything special to prep for Bangor. “We knew they could hit. We know we can hit. We had our ace on the mound, they had theirs. It was going to be a great day of baseball no matter what happened, and the team who hit the ball and made less errors was going to prevail.”
The game, played at St. Joseph’s college, kicked off inauspiciously, at least for Gorham. Bangor leadoff man Tyler Parke mugged Gorham starter Ryan Norris for a second-pitch, line-drive single into right, then stole second during Zach Ireland’s at-bat. Parke moved to third when Ireland laid down a sac bunt – or, what would’ve been a sac bunt, had Ireland not placed it perfectly. Ireland’s ball trickled into the left infield, roughly as far from Norris as from McDonald behind the plate and Kyle King at third. Norris snatched it up – but Ireland beat the 1-3 throw to first baseman Trevor Gray.
Parke arrived home on a Noah Missbrenner grounder single into left, and Ireland arrived home – all the way from second – on a Zach Cowperthwaite drive single past a diving Nelson, Gorham’s shortstop. Norris then walked Zach Murray before settling down and striking out both Nick Canarr and Carson Prouty.
The Northern Rams squeezed three more from the diamond before giving up the batter’s box: Missbrenner scored when Jacob Munroe singled into right-center, and Cowperthwaite and Murray crossed the plate when James Neel (just a freshman!) volleyed a shot into center. Neel’s contact was good for 90 feet, but the inning nevertheless ended when the Gorham throw from the outfield arrived in King’s glove and he managed to tag Munroe, on his way to third. 5-0.
A mere half an inning had elapsed, but Bangor looked good – no, they looked out of reach, frankly. The Northern Rams had done everything in their first ups they could have hoped to do: They hit, and they hit well, finding gaps and other hiding spots; they also ran like racehorses, zooming along lickity-split and only stealing at just the right moment.
The possibility of a blowout worried in the air.
But Gorham was having none of that. Cowperthwaite – Bangor’s starting pitcher – looked a little bit nervous on the mound, come the bottom of the first, and the Southern Rams took full advantage. After leadoff man Nelson flied out to center, Cowperthwaite walked King and walloped McDonald for two on, and Lucas Roop sliced a little single into left for bases-loaded.
“We have a bunch of guys who love to compete,” McDonald said. “When we’re down, there’s no thought of how much we’re down by; it’s just go up there and put it in play to get on base.”
Brown followed Roop to the plate – and smacked his triple-RBI triple, a drive and a half, into deep left; King, McDonald and Roop all rounded to home. DH Trevor Loubier sac bunted, next, and Brown zipped across the plate as well.
5-4, but 5-4 is where Gorham’s comeback paused: Gray flied out to left, ending the first.
The Southern Rams doubled down on defense in the top of the second. Parke flied out to Brown in center; Ireland reached – but only barely, when diving Gorham rightfielder David Drew couldn’t quite hold onto Ireland’s contact. Missbrenner then drove a pitch back at Norris. The ball hit Norris, hard, but he still managed to knock it down, pick it up and whip it over to Gray at first for another out. Norris closed the stretch with a K vs. Cowperthwaite.
Given the opportunity to swing some more lumber, Gorham capitalized: Will Prescott grounded a centerfield single, dashed to second on a Drew single – a little trickler into the near grass that just sufficed to get Drew a base – and gained third when Nelson grounded into center. A trio of singles in as many attempts.
Finally, Prescott raced home – tied the score – when King dropped a fly into shallow right and Bangor opted for a 4-6 fielder’s choice, picking Nelson off at second.
The South Rams continued playing outstanding defense in the top of the third, even closing the stretch on a 4-6-3 double-play, a Prescott-to-Nelson-to-Gray special. Gorham then hashed a sixth run – they swiped the lead – in the bottom of the third. Brown sparked the push, earning a walk off Cowperthwaite. Loubier pushed Brown 90 feet forward with a bouncy grounder into left, and Gray laid down a bunt: Cowperthwaite’s 1-3 throw missed his baseman and flew wild, allowing Gray to zoom all the way to second. Momentarily, he was called out for failing to touch first, but Brown’d made it home anyway.
“When we took the lead, I looked at my teammates and said, ‘We have a lead in the State Championship game, boys.’” McDonald said. “And that’s when we started to get our confidence. We knew we had a really good chance at winning it; we just had to produce.”
Gorham, unfortunately, ran into trouble in the top of the fourth, which interrupted their flow and cost them critical momentum. Munroe reached for Bangor, then rounded to third on a rare Gorham error – a sac bunt attempt by Neel turned into a successful base when Gray leapt forward from first to grab Neel’s ball; Gray spun, and fired to Prescott, who’d scooted over from second to cover Gray’s position. Somehow, though, the throw got past Prescott – well past him – allowing Neel to reach. Two Northern Rams on.
Parke flied out to center, to Brown. Neel then became the second Bangor casualty of the inning: He failed to tag up before taking off from first, so when the throw from Brown arrived in McDonald’s mitt at home, McDonald only needed to hurtle the ball to Gray for an easy out. Still, Munroe had ample chance to score, 6-6.
After Norris gave up two consecutive walks, bang-bang, Nadeau opted – sagely – to yank him. Jake Sladen took his place, but he only lasted five batters, the last batter of Bangor’s fourth and the first four batters of their fifth. The North Rams’ leadoff hitter in that inning, Murray, grounded for a single into left, then slithered forward to second on a similar hit by Canarr. He reached third on a Carson Prouty sac and raced homeward on a wild pitch during Munroe’s at-bat.
Sladen dashed ahead to cover the plate while McDonald chased down the wild pitch; Sladen, however, dove for McDonald’s lob at the same time Murray dove for the plate. The two collided, Murray’s helmet smashing into Sladen’s chest near his shoulder. He tried a few more throws following an injury timeout, but simply couldn’t stay in. Joey Curesky relieved him.
Curesky ushered Gorham out of the top of the fifth with no further scoring, but Munroe had safely tagged and the South Rams seemed thrown for a loop.
“I feel like, once Ryan was taken out, there was a drop in momentum,” McDonald said. “The way that kid’s made a name for himself this year actually brought tears to my eyes after I realized he wouldn’t be throwing to me in a Gorham uniform anymore. He’s made it so far from eighth, where he actually got cut! Even halfway through this season – up until his gem at Thornton – you could tell he was demoralized by the fact that he wasn’t pitching that much. We all told him to stick with it and that he was gonna get his chance eventually and he did and he took it and ran with it.”
“Sorry for the side-story,” McDonald said. “Nothing against Sladen at all. He’s worked all year to prove himself and I think he did. At the end of the year, he didn’t get too many innings because we gained Joey back, but we all know what he’s capable of, so I believed in him – until he got hurt. That’s when you could tell the crowd was getting nervous because it was our third pitcher to pitch in that inning. Joey did his job and we escaped with a tie game going into the sixth. It was a pause in momentum for us because we went through our three studs in one inning.”
Norris, Sladen and Curesky don’t represent the sum total of Gorham’s pitching staff; however, their superb defense gets all shuffled about when they dip much deeper into their talent pool. “We do have a couple more kids who can deal too, in Benny and Nolan,” McDonald noted. But as should be obvious by now, Nelson is critical at short and Brown critical in center.
The South Rams showed life in the bottom of the fifth: With one out, Loubier singled; he jumped to second on a wild pitch. Cowperthwaite came off the mound for Bangor after that, replaced by Prouty, who struck out Gorham’s next two, thus smothering the danger.
Bangor pushed men to second and third in the top of the sixth, but Curesky turned a slick play – he leapt, grabbed a choppy grounder and flipped it to first – to kill the inning.
Gorham picked up a hit in the bottom of the sixth, but couldn’t nurture it into anything; the South reps would have one more chance to catch up again. That goal receded distantly, though, in the top of the seventh, when Bangor put together another big inning. The North Rams dialed up Nelson’s number – Nelson had taken over for Curesky – and milked him for a single, a two-run double, and, following a sac bunt, a Parke RBI triple into the right-center gap.
Bangor operated on cruise control in the bottom of the seventh, taking down Gorham one-two-three. No doubt the South Rams retained a glimmer of hope after two groundouts, but they could only watch the gold glove slip away as the game concluded on a plain pop-up to first.
“I’m proud of the team,” said Nadeau. “We competed well. I thought our kids were tough. We just ran out of steam a little bit.”
McDonald praised the opposition. “Bangor could hit the ball very well,” he said. “One through nine, I think they had hitters who knew how to hit off-speed and fastballs. Not to mention their coach did a very good job playing small ball as well: They bunted, hit, and ran all over us that day. We knew we had it in us to come back after the first. After all, there were six more innings to play. Our offense could hit the ball just as well and we came out storming the first inning with a four-spot. We never got too ahead of ourselves and just remembered to have fun. It was amazing, the situation we put ourselves in to play in the last game of the season. So why not have someone fun and be happy?”
McDonald sounded off on the Gorham senior baseballers’ not-so-long – but definitely strange – journey, now at an end: “Four years of baseball really flew by,” he said. “It was great to see we all ended up in the same place at a State Championship. Our freshman year we were all together on the freshman team, coached by soccer coaching legend Tim King. It was great until sophomore year where half of us got put on varsity and half on JV – Will, Norris, Dave, Clayton Bassingthwaite and I. That’s where we learned we all had to trust the process.”
“I had no idea where I was going to fit in on the varsity roster after tryouts sophomore year,” McDonald said. “I bounced around a lot playing all different positions like pitcher, outfield, third and first. I think I really settled into the catching position having been a goalie my whole life. And to catch in a State Championship really capped off where I had come from in the process. But nothing made me happier than to see the group of guys that had been playing together since Cal Ripken battle for a State Championship. That’s what I’ll miss most about those kids, the chemistry and compete we had.”
The Portland Press Herald’s Mike Lowe contributed to this story.
Adam Birt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.
Gorham first-baseman Trevor Gray (4) fires a ball toward teammate Will Prescott, covering the bag, as a Bangor runner races for safety.
Will Prescott positions himself to grab an incoming, infield grounder.
Gorham first baseman Trevor Gray picks up an infield groundball; in the background, second baseman Will Prescott rushes to cover first.
Gorham second baseman Will Prescott grabs an infield groundball.
Gorham’s Nolan Brown arrives home.
Gorham shorstop Ben Nelson hurls a groundball toward first-baseman Trevor Gray.
Will Prescott dives back to first for Gorham.
Nolan Brown sneaks under an outfield fly.
David Drew leads off third for Gorham.
Will Prescott arrives home for Gorham.
Gorhamite Brogan McDonald stomps on home plate, scoring one of his team’s early, catch-up runs.
David Drew grabs an outfield ball for Gorham.
Gorham Catcher Brogan McDonald awaits an incoming throw – one that won’t arrive in time – as a Bangor runner dives for home.
Ryan Norris started on the mound for Gorham.
The Gorham Rams wait in their dugout, pre-game.
Gorhamite Jake Sladen pitched relief for a short stretch – before checking out with an injury incurred on a play at the plate – in the mid-game.