A new feature of the American Legion Zone 2 Baseball tournament this year is a pair of “play-in” games to decide the final two teams in this weekend’s Zone tournament.

The play-in games are today, as No. 3 Post 51 (10-7) hosts No. 6 The First (7-11) at 5:30 p.m. at Colby College, while No. 4 Franklin County (8-10) hosts No. 5 Gardiner (8-10) at 7 p.m. at Hippach Field in Farmington.

There were actually supposed to be three play-in games, but No. 7 Lincoln County (3-15) was disqualified after forfeiting three regular-season games. That put No. 2 Madison (12-6) in the Zone tournament. No. 1 The Red Barn (14-3), which represents Augusta Post 205, clinched a spot in the Zone tournament by winning the regular-season title.

With the nine-inning Zone tournament games beginning on Saturday, it’s tempting for coaches to play today’s games with one eye on winning and one eye on the weekend. Gardiner coach Dan Burdin says that’s far from the case.

“You’ve got to get there,” Burdin said. “If you don’t win (Thursday) night, it doesn’t matter what you have for pitching Saturday.”

With that in mind, Burdin will be starting Kyle Fletcher, who will go on six days rest.

“He’s by far our best pitcher,” Burdin said. “With him on the hill, we feel pretty good.”

Franklin County defeated Gardiner in two out of three meetings this year, which is why the Flyers are hosting tonight’s game. Franklin County coach Kyle Gunzinger said he plans to go with either Cam Abbott or Ryan Greenman as his starting pitcher.

“I’m debating on it,” Gunzinger said. “I could tell you one thing, and then change my mind at the last minute.”

Had The First won any of its three games this week — the Rockland-based club led Gardiner 5-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning on Tuesday — Franklin would have played tonight in Rockland. Gunzinger thinks home field is an edge, no matter where it is.

“Anytime you have the last at-bat, you can have the goal of going into the last inning tied, and just play for one,” Gunzinger said.

Instead, The First will travel up to Waterville, where Post 51 is looking for a catcher. Trevor Gettig will be pitching for his Babe Ruth team, Spencer Folsom can’t catch because of an injury and A.J. Godin is unavailable.

“Someone will step up,” Post 51 coach Paul Jacobs said.

Jacobs hoped to pitch Brian Bellows tonight, but Bellows will probably have to catch. Jacobs said it’s possible that tonight and the rest of the way, Post 51 will go with the strategy that Messalonskee used so effectively in the high school playoffs — a few pitchers, two or three innings at a time.

The First will start Ryan Allender, who is well-rested. Coach Joe Nelsen said Allender is the team’s most consistent pitcher. Nelsen isn’t concerned about any carry-over effects of Gardiner’s comeback on Tuesday and his team losing a sloppy 11-0 game on Wednesday.

“We’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs this year,” Nelsen said. “These kids, they brush things off really well.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

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