It’s impossible to lose a baseball game if you don’t allow any runs.
That has been a big key to Bangor High School’s success so far this season, with back-to-back playoff shutouts advancing the three-time defending Class A state champions to Wednesday’s 5 p.m. North regional final at Morton Field in Augusta.
Senior right-hander Nick Cowperthwaite followed up Peter Kemble’s 2-0 complete-game quarterfinal victory over No. 5 Hampden Academy by pitching a one-hitter as fourth-seeded Bangor ousted top-ranked Oxford Hills of South Paris 7-0 in Saturday’s semifinal round.
“Nick threw the curveball for a strike consistently and he threw the fastball on the corners and was able to work that changeup in a little bit to the top of the order,” Bangor coach Dave Morris of Cowperthwaite, who required only 78 pitches over seven innings, said.
Bangor (14-4) faces a Cinderella opponent of sorts in the North title game, as No. 7 Mt. Ararat of Topsham (11-8) already has road playoff victories at No. 2 Brewer and No. 3 Edward Little of Auburn after topping No. 10 Messalonskee of Oakland in a preliminary-round game.
“That program’s always been good, and they don’t give up. They believe in themselves and there’s some pride there,” said Morris of Mt. Ararat, which lost at Bangor 10-0 on May 12 in their regular-season meeting.
“It’s a testament to what they’ve done here in the playoffs, first having to win a prelim game and then going on to beat the No. 2 seed and the No. 3 seed. There’s something to a team that can do that.”
Wednesday’s other game, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor, is the Class C clash between No. 3 Orono (12-6) and No. 5 Dexter (12-6).
Bangor’s recent baseball legacy has been founded on pitching, with the likes of Curtis Worcester, Justin Courtney and Trevor DeLaite providing the Rams depth at the top of their rotation few schools have been able to match.
This year’s rotation of Kemble, Cowperthwaite and senior right-hander Gary Farnham have produced similar results as Bangor seeks to become the first Class A school to win four consecutive state championships since the Rams also won four in a row between 1994 and 1997.
Among that trio’s most telling statistics are their combined 93 strikeouts against just 16 walks issued in 98 regular-season innings.
“If we had 15, 3-2 counts out of the 16 games in the regular season I’d be shocked,” Morris said. “We throw strikes and hopefully we get more outs than they get hits.”
The University of Maine-bound Kemble (5-2) allowed just one earned run — for a 0.18 earned run average — and 25 hits in 39 innings during the regular season with 48 strikeouts and six walks. He scattered five hits in Bangor’s quarterfinal victory over Hampden Academy.
“He’s a true pitcher,” Morris said.
Cowperthwaite is now 5-0 after his semifinal victory at Oxford Hills, which came after a regular season during which he allowed just two earned runs on 17 hits and four walks in 25 1/3 innings for a 0.55 ERA.
“Cowperthwaite has kind of been in the shadows throughout his career, but he’s just an old-school pitcher in that there’s nothing fancy about him,” Morris said. “Nick has a rock-solid disposition. He just keeps plugging and plugging. Sometimes teams can feel real confident against a kid like him because he’s not a strikeout guy, but he throws a lot of strikes and he gets a lot ground balls and gets the job done that way.”
That Kemble and Cowperthwaite countered Bangor’s late-season struggles — the Rams lost three of their last four games on the road against Oxford Hills, Brewer and Edward Little to drop from first to fourth in the final A North Heal points — with the stingiest of playoff outings has helped the Rams regain their footing as championship contenders.
“At this time of year if you’re fortunate enough to get seven runs like we did the other day that’s great, but it’s the pitching and the defense that can put us at a different level,” Morris said. “We just regrouped and tried to figure out what our identity is, and I think our identity is our pitching and our defense, though our hitting is coming.”