Regular-season success is nice, but Bangor Senior American Legion coach Dave Morris sees it largely as merely a means to a championship goal.
His Bangor High School baseball team finished fifth in the final Class A Heal points this spring. Then the team surged to its sixth regional championship in the last eight years before narrowly missing a sixth state crown during that span when South Portland edged the Rams 3-2 in that final by scoring the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Many of those same players now loom as contenders in the Maine Senior American Legion tournament that begins Saturday at Husson University in Bangor after the Bangor Comrades earned the No. 1 seed in the North Division with a 4-1 victory over local rival Quirk Motor City on Tuesday night.
Just as the high school seeding didn’t reflect the Rams’ ultimate postseason effort, the Comrades’ regular-season finish brings no guarantee of future tournament success as Bangor seeks its first Senior Legion state title since 2017.
“We’re proud of the season we’ve had, but once you get to the tournament sometimes those rankings can be deceiving in a lot of ways so we just look at the opportunity to play another game and see what happens,” said Morris, now in his 23rd season as an American Legion coach.
“With our guys there’s no dark secret, they love to win.”
Bangor and Central Maine both finished with 15-3 regular-season records, but Bangor earned the top seed from the region based on head-to-head play. The Comrades defeated Central Maine in both of their regular-season meetings, bringing in a score of 3-1 at Husson on July 10 and 13-12 at Lawrence High School in Fairfield on July 13.
Quirk Motor City, which features players from the program’s 2019 Junior Legion state championship team and seven players from 2021 Class B state title winner Old Town High School, earned the North’s No. 3 seed with a 14-3 record after having its 14-game winning streak halted by Bangor.
The Queen City Athletics Riverdogs of Hampden (11-7) claimed the fourth and final playoff berth from the division.
From its peak of 48 teams statewide in 2007, Maine’s Senior Legion ranks have dipped steadily, to just 16 teams in 2019 and 15 teams this summer amid increasing competition from travel programs, wooden-bat summer leagues and showcase events designed to attract the attention of college recruiters.
That count suffered an additional blow when Pastime Club, a state champion as recently as 2008 and 2009 and the South Division’s No. 1 seed this year with an 11-5 record, opted not to field a team for the state tournament.
Senior Legion commissioner Ryan Lincoln said the Lewiston-based team played throughout the season with a small roster, and with its players having scheduling conflicts between Legion play and other summer teams, Pastime coaches couldn’t guarantee that the Legion squad would have enough players available to complete the state tournament.
That leaves South runner-up Augusta-Summit Real Estate (9-7) as the No. 1 seed from that region, followed by the Turner Bandits (8-8), Bessey Motors of South Paris (8-8) and Erskine-Charlie’s Family of Dealerships (7-9) to complete the eight-team field for the double-elimination state tournament.
“Obviously the southern part of the state has had its ups and downs but I think each team has one or two good pitchers and when you get in these tournaments that’s a key piece to not just winning a game but winning it all,” Morris said.
“The North has some really good pitchers and some teams have three or four, so I think there’s going to be a lot of parity.”
Bangor has based much of its success this summer on pitching and defense. The Comrades’ pitching staff is led by left-hander Bradley McLaughlin, who also was the ace of Bangor High School’s pitching staff, while the starting infield is identical to the high school version with Luke Missbrenner at first base, Ben Caron at second, Keegan Cyr at shortstop and Braydon Caron at third.
“They like playing for something,” Morris said of his club. “I’d say that’s the case for a lot of programs and one thing Legion can hang its hat on, that we’re playing for something.”