It had been 623 days since the last baseball game was played at Mansfield Stadium. On Tuesday afternoon, the Bangor and Brewer high school teams squared off in their season opener.
Not that much has changed.
The two rivals relied on solid pitching and timely hitting for a close contest, with Bangor grinding out a 3-1 victory.
“It’s the best day of the year, being able to get out on a baseball field and watch the kids doing something they’ve waited more than a year to do after having it taken away from them,” Brewer baseball coach Dana Corey said of the first meeting between the cross-river foes in nearly two years.
The COVID-19 pandemic had forced cancellation of the 2020 campaign.
“Today’s game was a Bangor-Brewer game. It was back to normal as far as being a close game with lots of things happening,” Corey said.
There were some differences.
Everyone involved in the game, including players, coaches and a good-sized crowd, was wearing face coverings and encouraged to practice physical distancing.
Team areas were extended beyond the two dugouts to provide for 6 feet of spacing between the players. Portable fencing was used to protect the teams from sharply hit foul balls in the expanded bench areas located in foul territory along the first- and third-base lines.
The new areas proved popular among the players, particularly at the warmest point of the day.
“I guess we were just absorbing the sun,” said Bangor junior outfielder Max Clark, one of the Rams’ captains. “It was awesome to be out here, and there’s lots of space, so I guess we just like to be as close to the field as possible.”
The impact of physical distancing on the game also produced some controversy.
The home plate umpire in Maine high school baseball this spring is calling balls and strikes from behind the pitcher’s mound to the left of second base instead of right behind the catcher.
The change prevents the umpire from being too close to the catcher or batter, but with two-umpire crews the norm during the regular season, one area of the game that is difficult to manage are balls hit down the left-field line.
Brewer had spotted Bangor a 2-0 lead on a two-run double by No. 9 hitter Braydon Caron in the bottom of the fifth inning, but threatened to mount a countering rally in the top of the sixth.
The Witches’ No. 9 batter, Kyle Goodrich, reached on an error and looked to advance to third on a shot down the left-field line by Ged Kirkpatrick.
The ball appeared to land fair, according to both Corey — who was standing in the third-base coaching box with a straight-on look at the flight of the ball — and Bangor coach Dave Morris, but with no umpire having a similar vantage point, the play ultimately was ruled foul.
Bangor left-hander Bradley McLaughlin then came back to retire the next two batters to end the inning.
“It was a fair ball,” Corey said. “But the rule is nothing you can argue about. It’s a judgment call and needs to be made quickly. The rule is the umpire has to be 100 percent sure that it’s fair or it’s a foul ball, so it’s foul until he calls it fair. It’s that way for everybody.”
“That was a tough break. If it had gone either way it would be a tough break,” Morris said. “The flip side of it is that Brewer didn’t let it affect them and they came back in the last inning and made it close.”
Bangor padded its lead an inning later as sophomore Matt Holmes hit a one-out single to center and scored when Clark lined a two-out RBI single to left.
Brewer scored its lone run with two outs in the top of the seventh. Kirkpatrick left no doubt about whether the ball was fair or foul by driving a bases-loaded RBI single through the shortstop hole to plate Ethan Norwood and cut the Witches’ deficit to 3-1.
After Gilpatrick singled, junior lefty Colton Trisch came on to earn the save with a game-ending strikeout.
“I thought our kids battled back well, especially in the last inning,” Corey said.
McLaughlin scattered five hits over his 6 2/3 innings with four strikeouts, one walk and two wild pitches.
Brewer right-hander Anthony Chiappone also allowed just five hits during a complete-game performance for Brewer. He struck out seven, walked one and hit two batters.
Caron singled twice for Bangor, highlighted by his two-run double on an 0-2 pitch in the bottom of the fifth. It played James Neel and McLaughlin, who had reached on a hit batsman and walk, respectively.
“We knew Bradley would keep it close on the mound, but for our No. 9 hitter to come up and get that double was big,” Morris said.
Goodrich reached base in all three of his plate appearances for Brewer, hitting two singles as well as reaching on an error.