BANGOR — All season long, Messalonskee Junior Legion head coach Ray Bernier told his team it had to learn how to win. Advancing to the championship game of the state tournament, the Loons did just that. So while Tuesday’s 6-5 loss to Hampden stung, it did little to dampen Bernier’s enthusiasm for his team’s improvement.

“I’m so proud of them. As a team, they just battled and battled,” Bernier said. “We just came up short to a good team. There’s no shame in that.”

Hampden scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, winning on Adam Rush’s sharp single back up the middle. Rush’s big hit gave the Riverjacks their only lead of the game, and capped a rally from an early 4-0 deficit.

“We knew we could come back. We just said keep our heads up, keep the sticks up. We always knew we could get it going,” Rush, Hampden’s catcher, said.

Hampden’s winning rally began with one out, when Keith Pomeroy singled. After Michael Beaulieu walked, Kent Oliver singled to score Pomeroy with the tying run. Messalonskee intentionally walked Jackson Thayer to load the bases, setting up Rush’s heroics.

“I just wanted to put the ball in play somewhere they couldn’t catch it,” Rush said.

Messalonskee played just over .500 ball in the regular season, and had to win a preliminary round game just to make the North regional tournament, where it upset Motor City (players from Orono, Old Town, Brewer and John Bapst high schools) to advance to the state tournament. Early Tuesday, it looked as if the upstart Loons would force a winner-take-all second game Tuesday night, scoring three runs in the first inning. Leadoff hitter Dylan Cunningham doubled and scored on an error. Ben Hellen’s double scored Andrew Mayo, and Carter Lambert scored on Joe Ardito’s sacrifice fly to center field.

Messalonskee pushed its lead to 4-0 in the third inning, when Lambert scored on a Mason Violette single.

Hampden cut the Loons’ lead in half with two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, on back-to-back RBI doubles from Thayer and Rush. The Riverjacks tied the game in the fifth. Pomeroy’s sacrifice fly to right scored Sam Economy, and Beaulieu’s RBI single plated Derek Gendreau.

A Mayo groundout to second scored Andrew Everett in the top of the sixth, giving the Loons a 5-4 lead.

Beaulieu came on in relief of Robert Buzzini in the third inning for Hampden, and earned the win, allowing one run in five innings.

Cunningham was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. The Messalonskee shortstop hit .600 (12 for 20) in the tournament, and earned the victory in Monday’s win over Fairfield with four innings of scoreless relief.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more from this team,” Bernier said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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