When the American Legion Zone 2 baseball tournament begins Saturday in Augusta, the four coaches will need to find enough pitchers to throw at least 21 innings in three days.

That’s assuming that you win three straight games by the 10-run rule. With each game scheduled for nine innings, a total of at least 27 innings is more realistic, and it could be 36 or even 45.

“Because of the double-elimination, you’ve got so many options,” South China Subway coach Mark St. Amand said. “You take your best pitcher and you go after somebody the first game, but you might lose him for the remainder.”

The only coach who will say for sure who will pitch the first game is Madison’s Peter Kirby, who is going with Cody Moody. No. 4 Madison (10-6) faces No. 1 Post 51 (15-1) at 10 a.m., Saturday at McGuire Field. In Saturday’s other game, No. 2 Gardiner (14-2) takes on No. 3 South China Subway (10-6) at 11 a.m.

The tournament goes through Monday, and the winner advances directly to the state tournament Aug. 1-5 at The Ballpark at Old Orchard Beach. The runner-up plays the Zone 5 runner-up in a play-in game at 11 a.m., Saturday, July 28, at the same site.

Post 51’s only loss this season was to Gardiner in an early-season doubleheader. Post 51 includes many of the players who helped Messalonskee win the Class A state title (although star shortstop Sam Dexter will most likely miss Saturday’s game to play in the Lobster Bowl) as well as talented 2011 high school graduates like Blair Blaisdell and Matt Woodbury. Post 51 coach Paul Jacobs said six players are hitting over .400 this summer.

Two years ago, Post 51 entered as the No. 1 seed. Last year, it was No. 2. Both times, Post 51 was eliminated before reaching the play-in game for the state tournament.

“We’ve been (No.) 1 or (No.) 2 the last three years, counting this year, and we’ve gone nowhere,” Jacobs said. “So they’ve got a little chip on their shoulder. I think they’ve got a little something to prove.”

Jacobs feels the biggest difference this year is the pitching staff is deeper, thanks to Blaisdell, Reid Nutter, Devin Warren and Isiah Fleming. Post 51 has a team ERA of 1.91, along with one of the best defenses in the state.

“We’ve got five kids, and possibly six, who can start a game and win,” Jacobs said. “Before, we had two or three who we knew would give us a good outing.”

Post 51 beat Madison twice this summer by scores of 6-0 and 11-1. Kirby thinks Madison is also on a bit of a mission after finishing last in Zone 2 last summer.

“Some of those younger kids have something to prove, and some of the older kids, too, to show that they’re good enough to be here,” Kirby said.

Madison hit about as well as it did all season in a 16-9 victory over Waterville on July 12. Since then, Madison has won three straight games by forfeit, so the Post 39ers will be facing an eight-day layoff when the tournament begins.

Gardiner and South China Subway split their two regular-season meetings. Gardiner won the first game 3-1 and Subway came back with a 6-1 victory one week later. Josh Martin pitched both games for Gardiner. For Subway, Shyler Scates started the first game and relieved Donald Camp late in the rematch.

Subway’s pitching has been dependable throughout. In addition to Scates and Camp, Subway can turn to Tom Grady, Jory Humphrey and Ryan Pulver and get quality innings. As far as the hitting, St. Amand says that if a couple guys get going, the rest of the team follows along.

“With this tournament, we should be seeing pretty good pitching most of the way through it, so we need to be prepared,” St. Amand said.

Gardiner coach Dan Burdin feels his team is hitting much better than it was early in the season. Gardiner’s only losses this season were to Subway and Post 51.

“We’ve kind of exceeded my goals,” Burdin said. “We’re pitching very well and we’re hitting well the last couple games.”

Gardiner’s pitching staff has a reliable top two in Martin and Spencer Allen. Beyond that, there’s Jimmy Theriault, Kyle Fletcher and Ben Crocker. There’s also Dennis Meehan, who hasn’t thrown much this summer, but can certainly log some good innings.

Burdin has been in this position several times and has been able to get Gardiner through to at least the play-in game. He says the nine-inning game is “kind of a completely different game from playing the seven-inning game.” He adds that the atmosphere is different as well. The crowds are usually a little bigger than in the regular season, and there’s a little more pressure because it’s the playoffs and college coaches often show up to watch.

Last year, Gardiner lost its first game 11-2. The Gardiner players played mini-golf in the outfield the next day before their first game, and were able to relax and reach the championship game.

“I think the kids that we have enjoy the fun and enjoy the atmosphere that goes with it,” Burdin said.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

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