AUGUSTA — The score was tied, but when Mark Buzzell walked up to the plate in the bottom of the 11th inning with one out and teammate Ryan Sinclair standing on second, he knew his Augusta Elks American Legion team might not get a better chance to keep its postseason hopes alive.

“Sooner or later, they were going to get their shot, too,” he said. “It was just whoever got it first.”

Buzzell resolved that issue himself, smacking a double to right field to score Sinclair and lift Augusta to a 3-2 win in 11 innings over Franklin in the quarterfinals of the Zone 2 playoffs. Augusta, the third seed, will face second seed Pastime today in the semis.

“What a nerve-wracking game,” coach Tim Rodrigue said. “I was thinking, I’ve got to worry about pitching if we happen to advance, the pitching rules are in force, and with nine-inning games, I’ll tell you, it was a chore.”

So was just escaping with the win. Augusta took a 2-0 lead in the third on a Sinclair double, but lost the edge in the top of the fourth when Miles Pelletier’s two-run single evened things back up.

Then, for six innings, nothing. Both teams had chances, but both also made the clutch plays in the field necessary to force the game deeper into extras.

“We weren’t hitting the ball tonight,” Rodrigue said. “If you’re hitting the ball, it makes life a lot easier.”

Finally, in the 11th, Augusta got the leadoff man on when Sinclair reached on an error. Cole Lockhart bunted him to second, and Buzzell, off all year at the plate, went to bat with the chance to win it — taking no time to reflect upon his struggles.

“I really wasn’t thinking anything,” he said. “I don’t change my thought process. Whenever I go up to bat, it’s always the same, no matter how I’m doing.”

He got a 3-1 count, then got the hitter’s-count fastball he was looking for. He laced the pitch down the right-field line, allowing Sinclair to score easily — more so than he expected.

“I was expecting a close play at home, so I was confused when Coach just casually told me to go home,” he said. “I was digging, expecting a close play, bang-bang, have to get dirty.”

And if there had been a play?

“I probably would have gone home anyway,” he said. “I was getting tired.”

Rodrigue said he wasn’t surprised to see Buzzell come through, considering the work he’s put in to find his groove at the plate.

“Today, we showed up here at 1:30 to take extra batting practice,” he said. “Mark showed up all by himself, went over in that cage, and hit the ball off a tee for a solid hour. … His work ethic is second to none.”

Franklin never got the run it needed to make a winner out of starting pitcher Ryan Pratt, who threw nine innings and 123 pitches, allowing nine hits and striking out six.

“Ryan Pratt pitched a hell of a game,” Franklin coach Kyle Gunzinger said. “Ryan’s a special kid and his family’s very special, and that translates to the baseball field. He’s just a competitive kid.”

Franklin’s best chance at grabbing the lead came in the 10th, when Austin Gilboe led off with a double and moved to third on a passed ball. Augusta had to bring the infield in, and the gamble worked when pitcher Jason Brooks induced a grounder to second and another to short, the latter of which resulted in Justin Rodrigue throwing Gilboe out at the plate.

Franklin had runners at the corners later in the inning with two outs, but Brooks fielded Bo Beaulieu’s slow roller back to the mound and threw to first in just enough time for the third out. Augusta was strong in the field throughout the later innings, buying it time before it could come through at the plate.

“We’ve had our moments where it hasn’t gone that way,” Sinclair said. “I’m glad to see that, come playoff time, we’re going to bear down and make those plays when we need to.”

The Elks took a 1-0 lead in the second when Nick Turcotte singled, moved to second on a forceout and came home on Heath’s single to left. The lead went to 2-0 when Sinclair smacked a double off the left-field wall to score Kolbe Merfeld, but Pelletier’s two-out single scored Nate Goodine and Tom Wing to even the score at 2, where it stayed until the final pitch.

“We’re definitely confident that we’re going to roll now,” Sinclair said. “We’re going to roll with it and see what we can do from here on out.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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