The Ellsworth High School baseball team’s path to the Class B North championship was similar to several regular-season challenges against the best of the rest in its division.
The Eagles scored just three runs in each of their regional tournament victories and required last-inning rallies to secure walk-off 3-2 wins in both their semifinal against Lawrence of Fairfield and to oust defending state champion Old Town in the title game.
“I’ve already got plenty of gray hair, but it’s getting added onto pretty quickly,” Ellsworth coach Dan Curtis said.
Regular-season victories over John Bapst of Bangor, Old Town and Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor required similar late-inning dramatics but enabled Ellsworth to remain atop the Class B North Heal points, earning the Eagles those decisive final at-bats during postseason play that secured their second trip to states in the last three seasons.
The culminating step came as Ellsworth rallied from a 2-0 deficit against No. 2 Old Town as David Baugh hit a game-tying two-run single in the sixth inning, then singled home Hunter Curtis — the coach’s son — with the game-winner in the bottom of the seventh.
That victory avenged Old Town’s 6-0 win over the Eagles in the 2021 Class B North final.
“I felt last year when we lost to Old Town in the Northern Maines, I call it the lights being too bright. You’re looking at all these kids that were juniors in high school, but really they were sophomores as far as experience goes because they missed a whole year,” coach Curtis said, referring to the 2020 season being canceled due to COVID-19.
“The players are exactly the same this year, it’s just the work they’ve put in,” coach Curtis said. “Almost every player after we lost the Northern Maine final went on to play Legion ball. They just continued to work at their crafts, and this year they show up and nothing scares them, nothing bothers them.”
Ellsworth (18-1) will face Freeport (16-4) for the state crown at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham in a rematch of the 2019 final that Ellsworth won 2-0.
The road to states is familiar to many of the Eagles, who won their first 22 basketball games last winter to capture the Class B North title before falling to Yarmouth in overtime in the state final.
“Every little bit of experience helps,” Curtis said. “I think these kids are tough for so many reasons. They’ve had one normal year of school with the pandemic. They’ve weathered a lot, and these kids just keep doing their thing.”
Ellsworth is led by their six seniors, including starting pitchers Craig Burnett, Hunter Curtis and Baugh, who combined to lead the staff to a 0.58 earned run average and 10 shutouts during the regular season.
Burnett is 7-1 after requiring just 82 pitches in the regional final against Old Town, while Baugh is 7-0 and Curtis 4-0.
“I think the key has been strikeouts to walks, it always is at the high school level,” said coach Curtis, whose pitchers struck out 105 batters and walked 20 during the regular season. “If you don’t walk people and the other team has to produce, that’s a key, as well as getting the leadoff guy [out] so coaches can’t do all kinds of other things.”
That trio is joined by third baseman Michael Palmer, catcher Brett Bragdon and second baseman Daniel Howie as seniors on the roster, with Hunter Curtis, Palmer and Bragdon all significant contributors as freshmen to the 2019 championship team.
“We’ve got some nice senior leadership, kids who have been to the big games in multiple sports and they just aren’t willing to roll over,” coach Curtis said. “They’re going to fight you tooth and nail to the end and so far it’s worked out well.”
Ellsworth had a .331 team batting average during the regular season, with Burnett leading the way at .409 with 21 RBIs. Other top hitters include sophomore outfielder Miles Palmer (.405), older brother Michael Palmer (.400, 11 for 11 in stolen-base attempts), pitcher-center fielder Hunter Curtis (.400). Howie (.325) and Bragdon (.318).
Curtis averaged 1.6 runs scored per game, many after being moved to the leadoff spot in the batting order midway through the season after the Eagles’ lone loss, a 5-3 decision to Class A Brewer on May 3.
“Hunter was walked so many times early in the season we moved him to the leadoff spot,” coach Curtis said. “By the end of the season he had 26 runs scored, which is a lot, and it was huge to have that leadoff runner on base and then be able to do some things.”
Freeport will be playing in its third straight state final and fourth in the last six years in search of its first championship.
The third-ranked Falcons had an interesting trip through the South regional. First they escaped No. 14 Gray-New Gloucester 2-1 in the Round of 16, which was followed by a 3-0 quarterfinal win over No. 6 York.
Freeport then ended No. 15 Lake Region of Naples’ Cinderella run with a 5-0 semifinal victory, and finally upended No. 1 Greely of Cumberland Center in the regional final for the second straight year, avenging 11-0 and 10-0 regular-season losses this spring with a 2-1 victory over the top-ranked Rangers.