Ellsworth High School was billed as the team to beat in Class B North baseball this spring because of the 1-2 pitching punch of senior right-handers Matt Burnett and Conner Wagstaff.
So when the duo led the Eagles back to the regional championship game for the second straight year, coach Dan Curtis was not about to go down without making the most of his pitching options.
Wagstaff got the start in Wednesday afternoon’s final against Hermon, and while he labored early in the game, he worked 5 1/3 innings before reaching the 110-pitch limit.
The top-ranked Eagles held a 9-4 lead at the time, but Curtis was not about to take any chances.
Burnett had pitched a two-hitter with 13 strikeouts and no walks in last Saturday’s 6-0 semifinal victory over No. 4 Medomak Valley of Waldoboro. He did not exceed the 95-pitch limit, so he required just three days of rest before being eligible to pitch again.
That meant the “Mr. Baseball” finalist would have been ineligible to pitch against Hermon when the teams originally were scheduled to play their Class B North final Tuesday afternoon at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor.
But when the game was pushed back a day due to rain, it meant that Burnett was eligible to pitch in the regional final. Curtis was ready to use him, knowing he could throw as many as 65 pitches and still be eligible to start Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. state championship game against Freeport at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.
“We were going to lean on the guys who have gotten us where we are, and there was never any hesitation as far as what we were going to do,” Curtis said.
Burnett needed only 23 pitches to clinch the Eagles’ 9-5 victory, and he should be ready to go Saturday as Ellsworth seeks its first state title since 1988.
“It’s amazing knowing that really any guy we put out there can do the job, especially with the defense we have and the guys we have that are able to throw strikes,” Wagstaff said. “And to have Matt out there to close out the game is a bonus because he can still pitch later on.
“The pitch count definitely allows for a little more flexibility for teams that have two or three pitchers that can go.”