Conner Wagstaff had planned to use his pitching arm Wednesday to lead Ellsworth High School to its first regional baseball championship in 27 years.
His arm proved important, but Wagstaff’s bat also was pivotal as the Eagles outscored Hermon 9-5 in the Class B North final at Mansfield Stadium.
Wagstaff tripled and singled twice with three RBIs as coach Dan Curtis’ club emerged as champions from an anticipated pitchers’ duel that turned into a slugfest.
“I knew I wasn’t really getting it done with my pitching as much as I wanted to, so if I could try to make an impact in any way with my bat or out in the field I wanted to do so,” said Wagstaff, a senior righthander who reached the 110-pitch limit after 5⅓ innings but left the mound with a 9-4 lead.
“A couple of times I got in good hitters’ counts and was able to poke the ball somewhere and drive in a couple of runs but that was because guys in front of me were getting on.”
The victory, one year after the Eagles fell to Brewer in the regional final, advances 18-1 Ellsworth to Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. state championship game at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish. The Eagles will play South champion Freeport, a 2-1 winner over York in Tuesday’s Class B South final.
Hermon, whose only regular-season loss also came against Ellsworth, finishes at 17-2.
Wagstaff and reliever Matt Burnett, who worked the final 1⅔ innings, combined for nine strikeouts and three walks, but just as important to their success on the mound was Ellsworth’s errorless defense, led by senior shortstop Devin Grindle and senior third baseman Tyler Mitchell, who combined for seven assists.
“A lot of teams look past that. They don’t see how solid our defense is,” Grindle said of a defense that included freshmen at second base, center field and right field. “Our outfielders can field. Our infielders do their jobs. Nothing really gets by us.”
Hermon scored twice in the top of the first, with a sharp leadoff double to left field by Wyatt Gogan on the game’s first pitch, an instant sign that both offenses were ready to challenge Wagstaff and Hermon righthander Jacques LaBonte — who went a combined 11-2 during the regular season.
Ellsworth immediately answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning, with freshman Hunter Curtis’ two-out RBI single to right center a key blow in the uprising along with Tyler Mitchell’s leadoff pop single to left.
Hermon also committed the first of its five errors in the contest.
“This was not at all what I think either [Hermon] coach [Matt] Kinney and I expected,” Dan Curtis said. “Hermon was ready to hit, and fortunately we were ready to answer the bell.”
Hermon closed within 4-3 in the second on an RBI single by Nate Allain, but Ellsworth used two-run rallies in the third, fourth and fifth innings to take control.
Wagstaff’s triple to deep center drove home Hunter Curtis and scored on Nathan Smith’s one-out single to right in the third inning, then he hit a two-run single in the fourth to extend the Eagles’ lead to 7-4.
Ellsworth scored its last two runs an inning later on a sacrifice fly by Grindle and an RBI single from Jackson Curtis.
Wagstaff settled down to limit Hermon to single runs in the second and fourth innings before giving way to Burnett after the Hawks’ Cody Hawes doubled down the left-field line with one out in the sixth.
Burnett, a Mr. Baseball finalist who is expected to get the pitching start in Saturday’s state final, yielded a two-out RBI single to Allain that brought home Hawes, then retired the next four batters he faced to complete his 23-pitch relief stint.
“We were going to lean on the guys that have gotten us where we are, there was never any hesitation about what we were going to do,” Curtis said about using both of his pitching aces to secure the regional crown. “We would have gone with it as long as we had to.
“You win the one in front of you and worry about the next one another day.”