AUGUSTA — To win the American Legion Baseball state tournament, you’ll need the old staples of pitching, defense and smart at-bats, and, as last year’s tournament proved, you’ll need a little luck as well.

“You gotta have the ball bounce your way, and you’ve got to catch some breaks, and understand there are multiple games within a nine-inning game,” said coach Todd Cifelli, whose Gayton Post team is the defending state champion. “Last year, in the state tournament, we played games with multiple ebbs and flows.”

“The baseball gods, they have to be on your side,” Augusta coach Ray Vallee said, “because it’s a very humbling game.”

Augusta, the lone representative from Zone 2, opens the eight-team, double elimination tournament at 10 a.m., today against Zone 1 champion Brewer. The tournament continues through Sunday, and all games will be at McGuire and Morton Fields in Augusta.

Today’s other games have Gayton Post facing Fayette/Staples at 11 a.m., South Portland-based Morrill Post playing Bessey Motors (South Paris) at 2 p.m., and Bangor taking on Ramsdell-Rogers (York) at 4 p.m.

The tournament champion will advance to the regional tournament in Old Orchard Beach, Aug. 4-8. That tournament includes the six New England state champions, the New York state champion, and host Fayette/Staples. Should Fayette/Staples win the state tournament, the state runner-up will also qualify for regionals.

Augusta will send Ryan Minoty to the mound today, while Brewer coach Chris Morris said he is undecided between Kyle McLain (who beat Augusta on the first day of last year’s tournament), Evan Eldridge and Pat McEwen.

“They’ve all pitched in big games for us this year,” Morris said.

Augusta will have had a total of eight days off since winning the Zone 2 championship, but Vallee likes that because it gave the team a chance to practice things it couldn’t during the compressed summer.

“Ultimately, it comes down to preparation, and I think that the kids worked especially hard in doing that,” he said. “I’ve coached baseball for close to 30 years. As far as being around a group of young players, this may have been my most enjoyable summer. They’re as focused a group as I’ve coached.”

Gayton, at 21-0, might be the tournament favorite. In the regular season, Gayton had a team batting average of .431 and a team ERA of 1.01. But then, pretty much any number you can find on the team’s stat sheet is incredible.

Including the playoffs, Gayton is averaging 11.1 runs per game and has 14 of its 21 victories by the 10-run rule. In 117 offensive innings, Gayton has scored 234 runs, or exactly two per inning. Three regulars hit over .500 during the regular season: Luke Cote (.568), Mekae Hyde (.553, 9 HR, 34 RBIs) and Jeff Keene (.521). Seven others hit over .340 in at least 20 plate appearances.

And here’s probably the most amazing stat: Gayton, as a team, hit 20 home runs in the regular season — and allowed 16 runs total.

Gayton is made up mainly of the Lewiston players who won the Eastern A title this spring, so Cifelli is confident his players can handle the closer games they’re likely to see in the tournament.

“We always look at our Legion season as a continuation of high school season,” Cifelli said. “Obviously, we had a lot of competitive games in the high school season. What we try to do as a coaching staff is evaluate whether we’re playing well or not.”

New this year, all U.S. military veterans and Gold Star Mothers will be admitted free to all games.

“All of the state’s committee members agreed that this was a great idea,” tournament director Al Cloutier said in a press release. “Without the American Legion and its support through the years there would be no baseball tournament today.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]


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