The Zone 2 American Legion Baseball tournament begins Saturday and continues through Monday at Memorial Field in Skowhegan. After seven-inning games all summer, the tournament games are each nine innings.

The first thing people talk about with the extra innings is how it will affect pitching. On the other side of the same theme, offense and offensive strategy can also be altered.

“I told the kids in practice, ‘If you’re down by three runs in the sixth inning, you’re not out of this game yet,'” Gardiner coach Dan Burdin said. “There’s still three more innings.”

The tournament is double-elimination, and the 10-run rule is in effect once the losing team has batted seven times. Pitchers are allowed 12 innings over any consecutive three-day period. The Zone 2 champion advances directly to the state tournament, July 30-Aug. 3. The runner-up has a play-in game next Saturday at 11 a.m. at Husson against the Zone 4 (Portland area) runner-up.

Saturday’s games have No. 2 Franklin County (9-6) playing No. 4 Gardiner (7-9) at 10 a.m., and No. 1 RTD (11-4) taking on No. 6 Post 51 (6-10) at 2 p.m. There will be three games Sunday, beginning at 10 a.m., and two teams will be eliminated that day. The remaining two teams are scheduled to play the championship game on Monday.

RTD, which represents Madison Post 39, actually started the season 0-3 before winning 11 of its last 12 games.

“We’re hoping our starting pitchers can go the distance, but we’ve got guys who can come in if we need them,” RTD coach Peter Kirby said.

On Saturday, the 39ers will be missing cleanup hitter D.J. Allen, who is playing in the Lobster Bowl. Allen is hitting .500 this summer, with two homers and 12 walks in 14 games. RTD still hit over .300 this season and can string together singles and doubles with people like Derek LeBlanc, Trevor Hisler, Cody Laweryson, Chase and Kam Nelson, and Garrett Emery.

Post 51 is the only team still playing this weekend that had to use a pitcher since Tuesday. Jake Dexter went seven innings and threw 102 pitches to beat the Red Barn in Thursday’s play-in game. Moreover, Devin Warren, one of Post 51’s top pitchers, is unavailable Saturday, also because of the Lobster Bowl. Post 51 manufactured two runs on Thursday — Dan Pooler had a single and two walks from the No. 2 spot — and got two more runs on a home run by Zach Mathieu.

“I think, now more that we used Jake, it’s going to come back to we’re going to have to play a lot better defense, and get timely hitting,” Post 51 co-coach Ray Bernier said. “We’ve got some kids who can still throw, who’ll throw strikes. They’ll keep us in the game.”

Warren was this year’s Morning Sentinel Player of the Year, and would conceivably be available on Sunday.

“Selfishly, I’m thinking so, but I don’t know what his mindset is, and I haven’t talked to him yet,” Bernier said Thursday night. “I can’t imagine him not wanting to be ready to come back.”

Franklin County doesn’t have many stars, but the pitching staff — led by Colton Lawrence and Amos Herrin — is deep. Like any coach, Franklin’s Kyle Gunzinger has to weigh on the fly how long to go with each pitcher.

“When to take a guy out is key, because you might lose him for the rest of the weekend,” Gunzinger said.

With Lawrence, Ryan and Andrew Pratt, and Cam Abbott, the Flyers are especially tough at the top of the lineup.

Among the four coaches in the tournament, Gardiner’s Burdin has the most experience with the nine-inning format. Gardiner also has a great 1-2 pitching punch with Kyle Fletcher and A.J. Oliver, who joined Gardiner after the Lincoln team folded. That’s not even including Ben Allen, who beat Post 51 with a four-hit shutout last week, or Jake Martin, who allowed three hits in seven shutout inning against The Red Barn earlier this month.

In tournaments with nine-inning games, you might need your fifth or sixth-best pitcher to pitch in a key spot — coming in and keeping the game within reach after the starter gets knocked out, for example, or being a bridge to a top pitcher finishing off the game.

“We’ve got Nic Sanborn, 15 years old,” Burdin said. “We put him in some big spots during the season, knowing that we might get to the playoffs and we might need him in that role.”

Burdin found himself with even more options when The First had to forfeit Thursday’s play-in game because of a lack of players, and Gardiner was able to save Fletcher for the weekend. That just hammers home that any of the four teams could be the one moving directly to states at the end of the tournament.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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