Queen City Riverdogs lefthander Ethan Phelps hadn’t pitched in a month but found himself with the ball in his hand for the State American Legion championship game against Bessey Motors from South Paris on Wednesday night at the Winkin Complex on the Husson University campus in Bangor.
The Riverdogs had forced a championship game with a 5-3, eight-inning win earlier in the day and coach Jon Perry had limited pitching options.
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Phelps tossed six innings of six-hit, one-run baseball and Tournament Most Valuable Player Anthony Chiappone pitched out of a seventh-inning jam to earn his second save of the day as Queen City triumphed 4-1 to claim its second title in four years.
Queen City — comprised of players from Hampden Academy and Brewer High — had won it in 2019 and there wasn’t a tournament in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Motor City captured it a year ago.
The 17-3 Riverdogs will take on the Rhode Island state champ at Fitton Field on the Holy Cross campus in Worcester, Massachusetts, in their first game at the Northeast Regional next Wednesday. It will follow the tourney-opening 9:30 a.m. game.
Bessey Motors, seeking its first state title, wound up 13-6.
Phelps walked one, didn’t strike out anybody and induced 12 fly ball outs. He threw 86 pitches, 58 for strikes.
“I knew after the first game that we didn’t have much pitching left so there might be a chance I would get the ball,” said Phelps, who was the number three pitcher as a senior on his Hampden Academy team this past spring.
He said that the last time he pitched was in New Hampshire a month ago, and that it “didn’t go well.”
“I was definitely nervous. It was win or go home. I had to go out and do what I did,” said Phelps, who featured a fastball and a curve. His strategy was to keep the ball low and away from his opponents, and let his defense do the work for him.
“I’ve known Ethan since he was 4 years old,” said center fielder Kam Hale, one of the offensive stars of the day. “I told him ‘It’s your game. Own it.’ He hadn’t pitched in a month but that’s the best performance I’ve ever seen from him.”
Perry said that shortstop T.J. Llerena had a sore arm and he also hated to take him out of the shortstop spot because he is such a good fielder.
Llerena made three gems in the field to support Phelps.
“Ethan throws strikes. I was just hoping to get three or four innings out of him. But he gave us six. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer kid,” Perry said.
Chiappone came on in the seventh after Isaiah Oufiero and Nick Binette opened the inning with singles.
He worked out of it with two strikeouts and a foul out. He did allow a walk that loaded the bases.
“I was amped up. I knew my fastball was my pitch and it was going to be great if I could get it past them, which I did most of the time,” said Chiappone, an Orrington native who graduated from Brewer in 2021.
As a hitter, he went 8-for-17 in the tournament with a walk-off homer against Bangor on Tuesday night, two doubles, four RBIs and six runs scored. On the mound, he had two saves and a 1-0 record.
“This is awesome. I never would have expected it at the beginning of the summer, that’s for sure,” said Chiappone while holding his MVP award.
Queen City took a 2-0 lead in the third inning of the championship game when Logan Burns and Collin Peckham delivered two-out, run-scoring singles.
Kolby Brown singled home Eli Soehren, who had also singled, for the lone Bessey Motors run in the fourth but Queen City added insurance runs in the fifth and sixth.
Llerena tripled to the left center field gap in the fifth and scored on Peckham’s sinking liner to center for his second RBI single of the game. In the sixth, Chiappone doubled and scored on Hale’s infield single.
All four Riverdog runs were scored with two outs.
“They hit some balls in the gap that made a big difference in the games today,” said Bessey Motors coach Riley Pickering. “Their clutch hits weren’t just singles, they were doubles and triples. And we hit too many balls in the air today.”
Bessey Motors had 26 fly ball outs in the two games.
In the first game, Queen City erased a pair of one-run deficits and won it with two runs in the top of the eighth.
Chiappone gave the Riverdogs the lead for good with a double to the right center field gap in the eighth that scored Grady Vanidestine, who had poked a single to left center to open the inning.
“I knew they weren’t going to throw me a fastball so I was looking for something to hit, I read curveball, sat back and waited for it. Assistant coach Sam Economy told me to go to right field with it,” said Chiappone, who eventually scored on a Levensalor squeeze bunt.
Chiappone came on in the eighth and picked up the save despite allowing two hits and a walk.
Bessey Motors took a 1-0 lead in the first when Ethan Cutler grounded a double down the third base line and eventually scored on Eli Soehren’s sacrifice fly.
Queen City tied it in the third on singles by Hale and Jed Gilpatrick and Burns’ RBI double to right center.
But Bessey Motors regained its one-run lead in the bottom of the third on a walk to Cutler, his stolen base and Josh Murphy’s ground ball single to center.
Queen City took its first lead of the game in the top of the sixth on a walk, Chiappone’s base hit, a groundout and Hale’s clutch two-out, two-run line drive single through the box on an 0-2 pitch from impressive lefty Murphy.
“One of my teammates said don’t show any emotion. See ball, hit ball. That’s what I did,” said Hale.
“That was a good piece of hitting,” Pickering said. “We were just four outs away [from winning].”
Bessey Motors answered with a run in the bottom of the sixth when Murphy singled, stole second and scored on an Aiden Gonzalez single.
They got the leadoff man on in the seventh but he got picked off by Peckham.
Peckham picked up the win, going seven innings and allowing seven hits and three runs with one strikeout and one walk.
Lefty Murphy also allowed three runs and seven hits over seven innings with 11 strikeouts and one walk. Cutler took the loss.