In the American Legion baseball state tournament, there are usually one or two favorites. This year, practically anyone could make a good run.
The tournament begins at 9:30 this morning with Zone 5 winner Fayette/Staples (15-5) facing Zone 4 champion Westbrook (16-5). All games in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament will be played at The Ballpark at Old Orchard Beach.
For the second straight year, The Ballpark will also be hosting the New England regionals, so as the host team, Fayette/Staples has already qualified for the New Englands. Should Fayette/Staples win the tournament, the state runner-up will also advance to New Englands.
Zone 2 champion Post 51 (18-2) faces Zone 3 runner-up Windham (16-6) at 12:30 p.m., and Zone 2 runner-up Gardiner (17-4) takes on Zone 1 winner Bangor (19-2) at 7 p.m.
Post 51 is made up of players from Messalonskee — this spring’s Class A state champions — and Lawrence high schools. Windham draws only from Windham, and that team also had a successful high school season, losing to eventual Western A champion Scarborough in the regional semifinals. In the summer, Windham is also known for its funky camouflage uniforms.
“We had a rough ending to the high school year,” Windham coach Nick Dubay said. “A lot of guys took it hard, because they thought we were better. So what better way to show that we are what we think (is) the best team in Class A, than beating the state champs in the first round? It will be a good test.”
Post 51 actually has only about six or seven players from Messalonskee’s state title team. Of course, one is star shortstop Sam Dexter, and three others are second baseman Jake Dexter, outfielder/pitcher Devin Warren and pitcher Reid Nutter. High school graduates Blair Blaisdell and Matt Woodbury are both key players, and Isiah Fleming was a nice addition from Lawrence.
“We concentrate on what we need to do,” Post 51 coach Paul Jacobs said. “We’re going to do what we do — pitching, throwing strikes, defense and hitting.”
If Windham goes with its ace today, that will be Cody Dube. During the high school season, Dube was 5-1 with a 0.61 ERA. In 57 innings, he struck out 69 and walked just six.
Gardiner and Bangor are meeting for the third consecutive year. Two years ago, Bangor pulled away from Gardiner and won 11-4 on the first day of the state tournament. Last summer, Bangor defeated Gardiner 8-6 in a play-in game.
The starting pitchers for that game were Bangor’s Curtis Worcester and Gardiner’s Spencer Allen and it could end up being the same matchup today. Josh Martin and Allen are about 1 and 1-A for Gardiner, but Martin threw nine innings on Saturday and would be going on three days rest. Worcester is Bangor’s ace, and he, Greg Duff and Justin Courtney each threw nine-inning complete games as Bangor won three straight in the Zone 1 tournament.
Bangor is essentially the Bangor High School team, although a few players didn’t come back this summer and Dylan Morris and Seth Freudenberger returned after graduating from high school in 2011. Morris’ two-run homer in the eighth inning of last year’s play-in game against Gardiner turned out to be the game-winner.
Bangor coach David Morris (Dylan’s father) said half of his team’s regular-season games were nine innings. The Comrades had seven different starting pitchers in 18 regular-season games.
“Our guys, they’re pretty seasoned to what we’re getting ourselves into,” Morris said.
Other than what he saw last year, Gardiner coach Dan Burdin doesn’t know much about Bangor. Like Post 51′s Jacobs, he is fine with that. Gardiner knew little about Kennebunk heading into Saturday’s play-in game and came away with a 2-0 victory.
“I don’t pay much attention to other guys,” Burdin said. “I’ll go through and pick out some names. Obviously, they’re good, so we’ll go at ‘em and see what we can do.”
Today’s other game is a great matchup, pitting Zone 3 champion Pastime Club (19-2) against Zone 4 runner-up First Title (16-7). Pastime Club, formerly Gayton Post, is the two-time defending state champion and draws mainly from Lewiston High School. First Title draws from Cheverus, which beat Lewiston 9-1 in the 2011 high school Class A state title game.
Cheverus has perhaps the best pitcher in Zone 4 in Louis Distasio, who posted a 0.85 ERA during the high school season. Pastime has a team ERA of 1.63, and pitchers Joe Sullivan (0.72 ERA), Luke Cote, Corbin Hyde and Matt Bowen all return from last year’s pitching staff. Hyde is also hitting .432 with five home runs this summer.
The Ballpark at Old Orchard Beach played like a pitcher’s park on Saturday, as the four teams in the play-in games combined to hit .165 with one extra-base hit in 127 at-bats. That’s just one day, but the distances are 312 feet to left field, 327 to right and 405 to center.
Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243