Bangor High School’s regular-season baseball finale was marked by an unusual amount of sporting pomp and circumstance.
Not only did the Rams honor a large senior class before Wednesday night’s Class A North clash with cross-river rival Brewer, but that was followed by a ceremony in recognition of the 30th anniversary of their home field, Mansfield Stadium.
“I know I’ve been saying this to everybody, but for a lot of us who played Little League across the street, it was always a goal to come across Thirteenth Street to play here,” said Bangor pitcher-outfielder Max Clark, one of 12 seniors on Bangor’s 16-player roster. “It’s been awesome to call this place home.”
The Rams and visiting Witches then staged a high-quality pitchers’ duel befitting the evening that wasn’t resolved until the bottom of the seventh inning when Clark’s one-out single drove home Luke Missbrenner to give Bangor a 1-0 walk-off victory.
Starting pitchers Wyatt Stevens of Bangor and Grady Vanidestine of Brewer combined to yield just six hits while striking out 16 batters over their combined 12 innings of work and were backed by stout defenses, beginning in the first inning when each team pulled off a double play ignited by its catcher.
Bangor’s Ryan Howard ranged far to his left to catch a foul popup by Noah Tibbetts just as he made contact with the backstop, then instantly regrouped to throw Vanidestine out at second base as the Brewer baserunner was attempting to advance from first base after the catch was made.
Bangor put runners on first and second with no one out in the bottom of the inning, but that threat was quashed when Brewer catcher Logan Levensalor caught Colton Trisch off second base after a strikeout and Trisch was tagged out in an ensuing rundown.
Neither team was able to break through offensively until Missbrenner was hit by a pitch with one out in the Bangor seventh, advanced to second base on a balk and scored when Clark delivered the game-winning run with just the Rams’ third hit of the contest.
“That’s playoff baseball at its finest,” Bangor senior shortstop Keegan Cyr said. “They were fighting to get that bye, and it’s easy for us to get comfortable but we knew we had to battle. Grady had his best stuff tonight, he was tough to beat. His [velocity] was up, his curveball was working, but we always say it’s gritty, not pretty, and we just have to get the job done.”
The result left both No. 1 Bangor and No. 4 Brewer with Round of 16 byes in this spring’s open tournament format and a break in their schedules until their postseason openers on their respective home fields on June 9.
Bangor, the 2021 regional champion, finished with a 15-1 record good enough to earn the top seed in Class A North for the first time since 2018, when coach Dave Morris’ club won the last in a string of five consecutive state championships.
“It’s where we wanted to be at the end of the regular season,” Clark said. “We know we have a lot more work to do. Last year we might not have had the best regular season [10-6 and fifth place in Class A North] but we got hot in the playoffs so we need to be the same type of team that got hot in the playoffs last year.”
Bangor’s senior class has developed from the team’s 4-12 record during its freshman year in 2019 through a 2020 campaign canceled due to COVID-19 to a narrow miss at states last spring when South Portland edged the Rams 3-2 in the title game on a walk-off walk that forced home the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The lone blemish on this year’s record was a 7-4, eight-inning loss to defending Class B state champion Old Town on May 13, some two weeks after Bangor had defeated the Coyotes 16-1.
“Coming into the year we knew what our ceiling was, and we still haven’t reached the end goal and haven’t even played our best baseball, I don’t think,” Cyr said.
“We had a letdown earlier with Old Town, that was a reality check and I think we needed it. I think that’s what was best for us. But we had so many guys returning and we got so close last year, we don’t really need any extra motivation other than that.”