AUGUSTA, Maine — The Brewer Falcons and Bangor Comrades have been frequent participants in the state American Legion baseball tournament since the turn of the century.
And while both are back in the eight-team mix when play begins Wednesday at the Capital Area Recreation Association complex on Piggery Road, they will do so having already answered some significant questions this summer.
Brewer, which won the Zone 1 tournament championship last week, wasn’t sure of the identity of its coach until just before the regular season began in mid-June.
Runner-up Bangor, meanwhile, had a returning coach in Dave Morris but one of the younger teams it has fielded in recent years.
The uncertainty for each team proved exceedingly modest, with Bangor now set to play its first game in the double-elimination state tournament against Zone 5 (York County) champion Fayette-Staples of Saco at 11 a.m. and Brewer to play Zone 5 runner-up Staples Crossing of South Berwick at 4 p.m.
Both games will be held at McGuire Field in the two-field arrangement.
Bangor will be making its 11th trip to states in the last 13 years, while Brewer will be making its seventh appearance since 2000.
The Falcons’ coaching search ultimately ended with Darrell Pluard, a former Marine and one-time head coach of Bangor’s Motor City American Legion entry. He stepped in around Memorial Day as the replacement for Chris Morris, who left after last season when he took a coaching job at Husson University in Bangor.
Brewer (16-8) lost four of its first five games this summer but found its groove late during the five-week, 21-game regular-season schedule and then used a late-game comeback in the postseason opener against Hampden as the springboard to an unbeaten three-game run to the zone crown.
“These kids never quit on themselves,” said Pluard after Brewer’s 10-3 victory over Bangor in the Zone 1 championship game. “We struggled early to find our identity, we really had to learn each other, and it took me some time to learn them.
“But we came in on a pretty good roll, we had been playing pretty well. We lost a tough 2-1 nine-inning game to Motor City, and then we pulled up the old bootstraps and put our nose to the grindstone and worked a lot on hitting and refocused our pitching staff on location,” he added.
Pitching was a key to the Falcons’ zone tournament success, with Zone 1 pitcher of the year Jeff Weeks, Kyle Alexander, Carter DeRedin and reliever Brendan Moore all working with veteran catcher Nick Moore, a freshman on the Husson baseball team this spring.
“We have ridden those pitchers, and they’ve gotten better and better, and they’ve worked hard with Nick,” said Pluard. “We’ve got, to me, the best catcher in this Legion area. He’s well-schooled, and when he calls a pitch the guys know better than to argue because he knows what he’s doing back there.”
Bangor (23-3) similarly has relied on pitching strength to fuel its success, particularly the combination of left-hander Curtis Worcester and right-hander Justin Courtney.
Worcester, a freshman at the University of Southern Maine this spring, was named the Zone 1 player of the year in recognition of a 6-0 summer on the mound. That effort already has included two postseason shutouts, a 2-0 win over Penquis of Dover-Foxcroft in the zone tournament and a 10-0, eight-inning win over Moody’s Collision of Gorham last Saturday in a state tournament play-in game at Augusta.
Courtney, who recently made a verbal commitment to join the University of Maine baseball program after he graduates from high school next spring, also earned first-team All-Zone 1 honors after going 5-0 with 55 strikeouts in 36⅓ innings of work.
“I think we have very good pitching,” said Morris, “and our defense is solid, so if we can hit with some authority, we can do some good things.”
The rest of the Bangor roster is relatively young by Comrades’ standards, yet Bangor went 20-1 during the regular season to win the top seed for the zone tournament.
“It’s really been a team of adjustments all season long,” said Morris. “When you have a young team you can work to teach them to make good decisions and adjustments, and that’s what we’ve done and I’m pleased with that.”
Bangor made one significant adjustment after the zone tournament that paid off in its play-in game victory.
“In the zone tournament the one thing we were disappointed about as a team was the fact that we let a lot of fastballs go by,” said Morris. “In our zone there was a lot of quality pitching this year, but when you let the fastball go by you take a pitcher who might be pretty good and make him great.
“Against Gorham we sat on the fastball, and when you can get in those hitters’ counts and jump on that fastball good things can happen.”
A new American Legion state champion will be crowned this weekend, with 2012 winner First Title of Portland, made up of players mostly from Cheverus High School, not in this year’s field.
With Bangor’s play-in win over Moody’s Collision of Gorham, just one team from the Portland-area Zone 4 — which has won 12 of the last 15 state championships — is left among the contenders.
That team, Westbrook, will open against Zone 3 (Western Maine) runner-up Windham in the 2 p.m. game at Morton Field, following the 10 a.m. game at that location between Zone 2 (Central Maine) champion The Red Barn of Augusta and Zone 3 winner Pastime Club of Lewiston, the state champ in 2010 and 2011.