As the baseball left Matt Holmes’ bat with the tying run on first base and two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning Saturday, at least two questions were in order as the blast continued its flight toward deep right-center at Morton Field in Augusta.
Would the ball to right-center field get over the short fence some 330 feet away and give Bangor a one-run lead late in a Class A state championship game that to that point had been largely an exhibition of pitching brilliance?
Or would Colton Trisch, who had singled one out earlier, be able to score from first base after the ball landed in play to negate an unearned run scored earlier and leave the teams tied entering the late innings with a gold glove at stake?
A less likely result was that either Golden Trojans’ center fielder Henry Lausier or right fielder Christian Schaffer would track down Holmes’ hard-hit shot before it hit the ground, but that’s what happened as Lausier — who had moved from left field just an inning earlier after a pitching change — made a spectacular diving catch that preserved Thornton Academy’s 1-0 lead and enabled the Saco school to capture its first state championship in the sport.
“I thought their center fielder made one of the best plays I’ve ever seen in my experience,” said Bangor coach Dave Morris, whose team finished its season with an 18-2 record after dropping a heartbreaking one-run decision in the state final for the second straight year.
“I’ve got to be honest, I thought it was going to be a home run, but the wind put it back in the field a little bit and give credit to [Lausier], he stayed with it.”
Lausier was pretty sure the ball wouldn’t get over the fence after learning during pregame drills that a breeze blowing from left field toward right field was reducing the distance of hits in that direction.
He was just as certain that he wouldn’t get to the ball before it landed as a game-tying, extra-base hit.
“My goal was to get to it as quickly as possible to keep that run from scoring from first base,” he said. “I just kept running and it stayed up long enough so I could make the catch. I slid and the next thing I know Christian is next to me celebrating and everyone’s screaming and at that point I knew it was a great play. But I thought it was in the gap all the way, and I was just trying to hold the runner to third base.”
The rest was left to Thornton pitching ace Cody Bowker, who finished off a relief stint during which he retired 12 of the 13 batters he faced, seven by strikeout.
Trisch, who had one of Bangor’s two hits in the game, was the only player to reach base against the Georgetown University-bound right-hander and 2022 Gatorade Maine Player of the Year.
“It’s just writing history, that’s what we said from the start of the season,” said Bowker, who threw 91 pitches in his team’s 8-1 victory over South Portland in Tuesday’s Class A North final, just under the 95-pitch limit that would have required three days of rest and made him ineligible to pitch Saturday.
“Last year we lost in the Southern Maine [final] and we knew the goal was to come to this game and win this game and at least put one championship on Thornton Academy’s shelf.”
Thornton Academy (20-1) overcame the pitching brilliance of Bangor junior Wyatt Stevens, who tossed a complete-game three-hitter and did not allow an earned run while striking out two batters and walking four.
“The curveball was definitely working,” he said. “They were struggling to hit the curveball, but at the end of the day what happened happened.”
The right-hander threw 96 pitches, 63 for strikes, and required just 47 pitches to work a scoreless final four innings after Thornton Academy scored the game’s only run in the top of the third when Bowker drew a two-out walk, took second base on a wild pitch and scored on an infield throwing error.
“[Stevens] did a great job mixing in pitches,” Bowker said. “He did a great job of working the umpire’s zone and finding out where the umpire liked to call strikes and he hit those spots.”
Lausier’s catch of Holmes’ long drive thwarted Bangor’s second comeback attempt in as many innings.
Rams’ catcher Ryan Howard opened the bottom of the fourth with the first hit off Thornton Academy starter Joshua Kopetski, then stole both second and third — with the steal of second coming after being picked off by the left-hander only to advance anyway.
A walk to Braydon Caron prompted Thornton Academy coach Jason Lariviere to turn to Bowker, and after Caron stole second on the reliever’s first pitch to put runners on second and third with nobody out, Bowker got Luke Missbrenner to fly out to shallow center field, a ball hit too short for Morris to risk sending home Howard from third base.
Bowker struck out the next two batters to end the threat.