BY MATT DIFILIPPO

Staff Writer

The American Legion Zone 2 baseball tournament finally has a location and schedule.

The tournament will be July 21-23 at the McGuire and Morton Fields in Augusta. Games will begin at 10 a.m. on July 21 and the championship game is scheduled for 1 p.m., July 23. All games are nine innings and admission is $2 per day.

Only the Zone 2 champion automatically advances to the state tournament, which is Aug. 1-5 at The Ballpark at Old Orchard Beach. The Zone 2 runner-up will play the Zone 5 runner-up in a play-in game at 11 a.m., July 28 in Old Orchard Beach.

There was some concern as to whether Augusta would be able to find enough volunteers to run the tournament, since Augusta (1-11) is the only Zone 2 team mathematically eliminated from the tournament picture. But Zone 2 commissioner Dave Rollins said it all worked out.

“I think it’s a great setting for baseball,” Rollins said. “Augusta has the experience to handle the gate, the concessions, the people, the parking. They’ve done a lot of work on the fields.”

Post 51 (12-1) and Gardiner (10-2) have each clinched one of the four Zone tournament spots. South China Subway is third at 7-4 and Madison is 6-6. Amato’s of Rockland (6-8) and Franklin County (5-7) are each a game behind Madison, while Lincoln County (4-7) and Waterville (3-8) are still in the hunt but probably need to win out and get some help.

Each team plays 16 games, so Amato’s has only two remaining — tonight at Augusta and Monday against Gardiner — and can finish no better than 8-8. Madison has two games remaining with both Augusta and Waterville. But those aren’t gimmes, as Augusta, with Zack Lachance, and Waterville, with J.T. Whitten, each have a pitcher who can win against anyone.

Franklin County is at Gardiner tonight, then is at Subway for a doubleheader on Saturday before finishing up with a home game against Lincoln on Tuesday.

Lincoln County has an outside chance, but also has the toughest remaining schedule. Lincoln has two games with both Subway and Post 51, plus the game against Franklin County.

• • •

Gardiner coach Dan Burdin was hoping his team could find a fifth starter in time for the Zone tournament. Then Jim Theriault went out and threw a two-hit shutout to beat Lincoln 1-0 on Tuesday.

“He got out of some jams, threw the ball well, spotted the ball well,” Burdin said. “He’s been a pleasant surprise for us. We knew he could pitch. We just didn’t know he could throw that well.”

Gardiner (10-2) is in the tournament no matter what. Spencer Allen is transferring from Husson to the University of Michigan, so he’ll miss the next three games due to college orientation. Allen, who pitched 22 innings for Husson this spring but did not have an at-bat, has five home runs this summer.

“He’s really adapted well to off-speed pitching,” Burdin said. “He’s been the go-to guy again.”

Allen, Dennis Meehan and Theriault lead an offense that has put runs on the board. Burdin said the bottom of the order hitters are capable of bunting or swinging away and getting on base that way.

“Everyone kind of knows their role right now,” Burdin said. “It’s been kind of a surprise. I thought hitting was going to be our struggle a little bit, but we’ve done what we’ve needed to do to win games, that’s for sure.”

In last year’s Zone tournament, Gardiner ran out of pitching and lost the championship game, 27-17, then lost a play-in against Bangor. This time, Burdin feels like he has more options.

“With Josh Martin, Spencer, Kyle Fletcher and Jimmy as a solid group there,” Burdin said, “and with Dennis Meehan, who I think has thrown only one inning this season, and finally getting Ben Crocker back this weekend, we should be in good shape.”

• • •

That Franklin County even has a shot at the postseason is a bit of a surprise. The Flyers have only 13 players on their roster and most of them are young.

Still, Franklin is 5-7 and that includes two losses to Amato’s by forfeit when the Flyers didn’t have enough players for a Saturday doubleheader. Those other five losses are by a total of 12 runs.

“Bottom line is, the kids play the game and they’re scrappy,” Franklin coach Kyle Gunzinger said. “The pitching’s been excellent and the hitting’s been coming around.”

Jimmy Neal and Ryan Greenman have stood out on the mound, but everyone has found some effectiveness. The Flyers don’t make a lot of errors, which means the pitchers don’t have to worry about the other team putting the ball in play.

“We’re playing a fairly clean game, so we’re limiting the number of pitches and they can be aggressive and attack the strike zone early,” Gunzinger said. “I really believe if you play an error-free game, you’ll be in all of them.”

Neal and Greenman are also two of the top hitters. Neal drove in six runs in an 8-7 victory over Waterville on Tuesday, and Greenman has had several multi-hit games. Greenman, a 15-year-old who didn’t play high school baseball for Mt. Blue this spring, has pitched complete games in both of his starts, and plays a smooth center field. Gunzinger said Greenman is probably the fastest player on the team and, in eight games in the field, he’s thrown out four runners at the plate.

Andrew Pratt, Ryan Pratt and Charlie Martin are also hitting of late. Andrew Pratt has filled the second spot in the order, while Ryan is hitting around .500 and playing well in right field.

• • •

Post 51 (12-1) is also just waiting for the Zone tournament, and does not play again until Saturday. With a stretch of three games in 10 days, the main concern would seem to be staying fresh and not peaking too early.

“We’re maybe ready for rest,” said Post 51 assistant coach Tom Dexter. “I think (Tuesday) was our seventh game in eight days. So we’ll take a few days off here and play again on Saturday. I think the rest is going to be good and the way I’m seeing it, these guys come every night ready to play. As long as we do that, I don’t think we’re peaking too early. We’re just playing hard every game and that’s our goal.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

 

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