The baseball legend of Jesse Colford continues to grow, as a career that nearly didn’t get out of the starting blocks in high school will take its next step Friday at the American Legion Northeast regional tournament in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Colford and the Comrades, who defeated Franklin County, Vermont, 15-4, in Wednesday’s first game of the regional, was scheduled to play again at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
But heavy rain forced suspension of Wednesday’s second game between Stamford, Connecticut, and Manchester, New Hampshire, in the fifth inning and resulted in the postponement of the remaining two matchups set for opening day.
That schedule resumed Thursday morning, followed by the day’s previously scheduled four games and Bangor Coffee News ended up suffering a 4-1 loss to Braintree, Massachusetts.
Colford is eligible to pitch again for the Comrades on Friday in an elimination contest after leading the Comrades to their third Legion state championship in four years last weekend in stunning statistical fashion.
He opened the state tournament by striking out 15 batters with just 73 pitches in 6 2/3 shutout innings of a 4-0 victory over Fayette-Staples of Saco before being pulled from the game at 73 pitches. That was two short of the pitch limit that allowed Colford to return to the mound on three days rest instead of four days, which would have made him unavailable for the rest of the tourney.
Colford was back and well rested for what turned out to be not only the state championship game, but a rematch of the 2016 state final when Yankee Ford edged Bangor Coffee News 5-4.
This time Colford was in charge, scattering 11 hits while recording 13 strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings as coach Dave Morris’ club topped the South Portland team 9-4 to earn its third trip to the Northeast regional in four years.
In those two outings, Colford threw 196 pitches, 156 for strikes, with just two walks to go with his 28 strikeouts.
“[Assistant coach] Tim Bush came up to me and said what do you think?” Morris said of the decision to pull Colford from the Fayette-Staples game early. “It was a great call on his part. It was on our radar, but he really made it a point where we really thought about what we wanted to do.
“We just felt like we had a grip on that game and it worked out for us, but most importantly it was how Jesse responded. To throw 73 pitches in one game and then come back four days and throw 123 pitches and shut down a good team, you can’t say enough about his performance.”
Comebacks are nothing new for Colford, who failed to earn a spot on the junior varsity roster as a freshman at Bangor High School in 2013.
Undaunted, he kept playing the sport that summer and not only earned that roster spot a year later but since then has helped Bangor teams win five state championships as well as embark on an undefeated run to the 2014 Senior League World Series semifinals.
That resume includes a 1-0 shutout victory over South Portland for the Bangor Cadets in the 2014 Junior Legion state final, a key role as an infielder and relief pitcher on Bangor High School’s 2015 and 2016 Class A state-title teams, and as a member of Bangor Coffee News’ American Legion state-championship efforts in 2015 and 2017.
“What a great story for a lot of young kids, especially in this day and age when there are a lot of high expectations for kids to come in and play,” Morris said. “To be cut as a freshman and to now be part of five or six state championships is amazing to me and a credit to how dedicated he’s been.”
Colford’s mound prominence has expanded since his graduation from high school, where he worked behind the likes of current University of Maine pitchers Justin Courtney and Trevor DeLaite.
He got his first consistent opportunity as a starter during last summer’s Legion season and built on that to battle his way into the conference-game pitching rotation as a freshman at Husson University this past spring.
The 5-foot-8, 170-pound Colford pitched 38 2/3 innings over nine appearances that included five starts for the Eagles, compiling a 2-2 record with one save and a 3.26 earned run average.
“Last summer was a really big building block for me,” Colford said. “I really got the opportunity to start and the opportunity to showcase my pitches and as I did that I just kept getting stronger and more confident.
“I’m a student of the game. I just want to keep learning and getting better every game.”
Colford earned All-Zone 1 first-team accolades this summer after going 3-0 with a 1.90 ERA during the American Legion regular season. He also is 3-0 in postseason play, including the 2-0 effort at states that earned him tournament MVP honors.
“Jesse performs very well under pressure,” Comrades’ catcher Tyler Parke after the win over Yankee Ford said. “When he pitched for the high school it was no different than now. He throws hard and hits his spots. He’s just gritty.”
Colford’s pitching arsenal features location, movement and deceptive velocity.
“I’m not going to show anybody anything too, too straight,” he said. “I’m looking to get it in on their hands or outside and just show them movement.”
He’s also taken on an elder statesman role of sorts within his current Legion roster, including many younger players who had not been his teammate until this summer.
“I don’t want them to look on me as the guy who got cut, obviously,” he said, “but I guess it is good if people view me that way because you should never give up. You should just keep going if you believe in something. Believe in yourself and keep pushing yourself.”