Editor’s note: This is the 12th installment of our new series, “Remember When,” in which we revisit some of the memorable games, events, streaks and runs in high school spring sports we’ve covered over the last few decades.

The Messalonskee High School team was embarrassed. Who loses to Brunswick? In 2012, not many. That loss, coupled with a loss to Brewer, dropped the Eagles record to 5-5. For a team that entered the season with high expectations, playing .500 baseball didn’t cut it.

The Eagles held a team meeting, where they talked about it. Were the losses to Brewer and Brunswick going to be the end of something bad, or the start of something good?

“We said enough was enough. That game was a game we shouldn’t have lost. It was a focus level,” Travis St. Pierre, Messalonskee’s senior third baseman, said.

Added freshman catcher Trevor Gettig: “Coach (Ray Bernier) said, ‘You guys know how talented you are. What are you going to do with it?'”

The unexpected losses were the wakeup call Messalonskee needed, and were the Eagles final losses of the season. Messalonskee capped the 2012 season with a 6-3 win over Scarborough in the Class A state championship game June 16 at St. Joseph’s College in Standish. It was Messalonskee’s first baseball state championship since the Class B state title in 1973.

“That team was probably the easiest team to manage. I didn’t have a lot of veterans, but I had the right veterans,” Bernier said.

The Eagles had just three seniors: St. Pierre, shortstop Sam Dexter, and center fielder Gage Landry. They provided leadership to an otherwise young team. Sophomore Devin Warren was an outfielder and key pitcher, who started the state championship game. Three freshmen: Gettig, Jake Dexter and Zach Mathieu, were mainstays in Messalonskee’s lineup right from the start of the season, and a fourth, Nick Mayo, worked his way into the lineup at first base. Many members of the team had enjoyed success at the Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth level, advancing to New England tournaments.

“We could hold our own. In my mind, I’d played against the best in the state,” Gettig said. “Then I got introduced to high school, playing guys 18-, 19-years-old, and I’m thinking ‘Oh, this is different.'”

Messalonskee missed the playoffs in 2011, but with a talented group led by Sam Dexter, who went on to become the Division III national player of the year at the University of Southern Maine and embark on a professional baseball career, the Eagles had expectations. The mediocre start may have led the Eagles to question their ability, but the season never bottomed out, Dexter said.

“I don’t think there was ever a feeling we were down and out,” Dexter said. “I don’t remember (the team meeting) being the defining moment of the turnaround. I’ve been around a lot of teams that had team meetings, and I’m glad we did it. It gave guys a chance to get some things off their chest.”

Dexter set the tone for the Eagles, hitting .475 with an on-base percentage of .568 while playing stellar defense at short. Bernier recalled Dexter often pulling a younger teammate aside in the dugout to offer tips or encouragement.

“His drive just pushed you. You show up at practice, and you see a guy who’s definitely better than anyone else there, but he doesn’t act like it. He holds you accountable and has accountability for himself,” Gettig said.

Added Bernier: “(Dexter) didn’t have anything to prove to anybody. He wanted to prove it to himself.”

Messalonskee ended the regular season with a 7-6 win over Oxford Hills in eight innings, winning when St. Pierre scored on a passed ball. Messalonskee and Oxford Hills already knew they’d be opponents in the first round of the regional tournament, with the winner of that regular-season game earning the four seed and home field for the playoff game.

The Eagles won the rematch with Oxford Hills, 10-0, and expected to face top-seed Bangor in the semifinals. They were at graduation when they heard the news. No. 8 Hampden had knocked off Bangor.

“Bangor was always a struggle,” Landry, who works for Arc Erecting of Brewer in iron work, said.

Hampden came close to a second consecutive upset, pushing Messalonskee to extra innings. As he had in the regular-season finale against Oxford Hills, St. Pierre hustled on the bases to lift his team to the win. On second base with two outs in a tie game, St. Pierre took off for third when Warren swung and missed for strike three. The ball got away from Broncos catcher Patrick Later, and Warren broke for first.

Later had to hurry his throw to first base, and it got away, allowing St. Pierre to round third and score the run that gave the Eagles a 3-2 win. That hustle was standard for St. Pierre, Bernier said. Messalonskee’s cleanup hitter, St. Pierre made opponents content to pitch around Sam Dexter pay.

“(St. Pierre) was always the one hitting after Sammy. He always seemed to come up with a big hit,” Bernier said.

St. Pierre said he doesn’t remember many of the specifics of the play that beat Hampden, but he knew his role on the team was to produce runs, and he embraced it.

“Sam was the best hitter on the team. He gets to second base, it’s usually a run,” said St. Pierre, who now lives in Anchorage, Alaska where he does iron work. “We all had big hits. That’s probably the best year I ever hit the ball… The main objective is to get home and score that run.”

Messalonskee’s opponent in the regional final was Lewiston, the defending regional champ. The Blue Devils had a strong group of hard-throwing pitchers. To prepare, Bernier brought in pitchers from Thomas College to throw batting practice.

“They saw a lot of fastballs, hard fastballs,” Bernier said.

Messalonskee routed Lewiston, 13-2. St. Pierre’s two-run double in the top of the third inning opened the floodgates for the Eagles, who chased Lewiston’s hard-throwing lefty Corbin Hyde, like Sam Dexter a finalist for the John Winkin Award as Maine’s top senior baseball player in 2012, in the fourth inning. Every player in Messalonskee’s starting lineup reached base at least once.

In the state game, Scarborough jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Gettig said the Eagles probably had some early jitters, especially after seeing the large contingent of Messalonskee fans already at Larry Mahaney Diamond when they pulled in on the team bus. A Gettig throwing error in the first inning led to a Red Storm run, and the young catcher immediately felt like he had just cost his team a state championship.

In the fourth inning, the Eagles took the lead for good, scoring four runs. All six of Messalonskee’s runs that day were unearned, as Scarborough, normally a strong defensive team, made seven errors.

“We didn’t strike out much that game. We were putting the ball in play and they weren’t making the plays,” Sam Dexter said.

Meanwhile, Warren settled in and pitched well before giving the ball to Jake Dexter to record the final two out for the save. Warren allowed three hits with five walks and five strikeouts.

“I’d been catching him the whole year, and I knew if (Warren) would have a good day or not. When we got him three runs, I was thinking, I don’t think Devin is going to give up three runs today,” Gettig said.

The defensive play of the day was made by Sam Dexter in the bottom of the fifth. After Warren walked Sam Terry to open the inning, Scarborough’s Greg Viola laced a sharp ground ball to the shortstop hole that appeared on its way to left field. Dexter dove, getting full extension to reach the ball. He made a perfect throw to his brother Jake covering second base for one out, and Jake made the pivot and throw to an outstretched Mayo at first to complete the double play.

“I was in shock. Still the best play I’ve ever seen,” said Gettig, who graduated from the University of Maine last year and is now embarking on a civil engineering career in the Portland area.

“I was playing middle infield with my brother, and we obviously have that chemistry. I’ve always been on the ground, diving to make plays,” Sam Dexter, who is still playing professional baseball, said. A member of the New York Boulders, a team in the independent Frontier League. Jake Dexter also is in the Frontier League, on the Washington Wild Things. With the league on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the brothers expect to learn in early June if there will be a season.

Winning the school’s first Class A baseball title on June 16 had added significance to the Messalonskee players, Dexter said. June 16 was the birthday of Chris Curato, an eighth grader from Oakland who was killed in a car accident in 2006.

“He was close to a lot of people on that team, staff, and Messalonskee community. It made it an extra special day and I know he was watching,” Dexter said.

The Eagles finished the season with a 10-game win streak, and the tough losses that led to the team meeting were forgotten.

“Even after we won the state game, we didn’t want to stop playing,” Landry said.

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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