It has been a roller coaster year for boys sports at Central Aroostook High School in Mars Hill.
Last fall the Panthers were top-ranked in Class D North soccer and advanced to the regional championship game but suffered a one-goal loss to Penobscot Valley of Howland.
During the winter season, Central Aroostook again topped the final regular-season Heal Points, this time in Class C basketball, only to suffer a last-second quarterfinal loss to No. 8 Sumner of East Sullivan.
The top-ranked Panthers were on the brink of further frustration in Tuesday night’s Class D North baseball final after No. 3 Hodgdon rallied from a 7-1 deficit to tie the game in the seventh inning and take an 8-7 lead in the top of the eighth.
But this time Central Aroostook had the final response. The Panthers mounted a two-run rally in the bottom of the eighth, capped off when leadoff batter Lane Grass was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to give the Panthers a 9-8 win and their first regional crown in the sport since 2010.
“These kids believe they can win at any point in the game no matter where we are in the lineup,” said CAHS coach Mitch Ross, whose 13-4 Panthers face 18-1 Searsport for the state title at 1 p.m. Saturday at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.
“It doesn’t have to be the top of the order, because that was the bottom of the lineup that got us going [Tuesday night],” Ross said.
The victory over Hodgdon was the fifth this spring accomplished in walk-off fashion, including all three postseason wins to date. CAHS outlasted No. 8 Machias in its quarterfinal 5-4 in eight innings, then edged No. 4 Jonesport-Beals 11-10 in the semifinals.
“It’s been brutal, but these kids are special,” Ross said. “They have played together in three sports, and I’ve been coaching some of these kids since they were in sixth grade. They really believe in themselves.
“They may not be the most talented team on the earth, but they have a streak in them that refuses to stop.”