Editor’s note: This is the 16th 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.

READFIELD — In 1999, the Maranacook baseball team had a surprising season cut short with a loss to Cape Elizabeth in the Class B Western Maine playoffs.

It was hard for the Black Bears to be too disappointed, however. The season was over. But the ride was just getting started.

“I think we definitely felt like we were set up for a pretty good run,” pitcher and first baseman Ben Muniz said. “We had freshmen and sophomores and juniors who really made up the bulk of that team. We really felt like we had a shot to make a deep run (in 2000).”

That season, and beyond. What was brewing was one of the best baseball runs the central Maine area has seen, as Maranacook emerged as the Class B powerhouse with three straight championship game appearances, and two titles.

It all started, however, in 2000, when a gifted group of juniors and sophomores led the Black Bears through a loaded Western Maine bracket and to an 18-2 record and the program’s first state championship with an 11-6 victory over Bucksport at Bangor’s Mansfield Stadium.

“(In 1999), they exceeded expectations,” then Maranacook coach Terry Creek said. “(In 2000), even though they were almost all going to be back the next year, I think they felt like this was the year that they could and should do it.”

The Black Bears in 2000 may have been young, but they were loaded. Junior shortstop and pitcher Greg Creek won the Winkin Award as the state’s top senior the next year before going on to a career in the Atlanta Braves organization. Sophomore center fielder Jared Lemieux also played professionally in the Can-Am League. Sophomore second baseman Seth Emery went on to play at Dartmouth. Muniz, a sophomore, played at St. Joseph’s. Creek, Emery and Muniz were Class B first-team selections, while senior third baseman Joe Lemieux was a second-team pick.

The Maranacook baseball team poses after it won the 2000 Class B state title, 11-6, over Bucksport. Submitted photo

With players like designated hitter Justin Turmelle, outfielders Ryan Raines, Dan Westlake and Rob Cloutier and catcher Mike Buckley — a starter as a freshman — rounding out the lineup and a deep bench behind them, the Black Bears had a winning mix.

“That team was a lot of fun. … The best two hours of our day were spent out on the ball field,” Jared Lemieux said. “We all played Wiffle ball together, and it was just one of those things. We all just really had a passion for the game and respected that out of each other.”

The Black Bears had fun, but they took the game seriously. Baseball was the primary sport for many of the players, and they worked to make sure their talent didn’t go to waste.

“There were many, many days that either after practice or on days we had off, I could remember Jared Lemieux and I going to the cages at Maranacook and just hitting balls. We just enjoyed it,” Greg Creek said. “That trickles down to everybody. You have guys that are average players that play very, very hard because the guys that are leaders are playing very, very hard.”

Going into the season, Coach Creek knew he had a special roster.

“(We were) really strong 1 thru 6. Really strong,” he said, referencing the top of the lineup, comprised of Joe and Jared Lemieux, Emery, Creek, Muniz and Turmelle. “For a Class B school, to be really strong beyond 3 or 4, it’s rare.”

Turning that talent into hardware wasn’t going to be easy, however, and the third-seeded Black Bears were challenged from the moment the postseason began. A home quarterfinal with Mountain Valley went down to the wire, with Maranacook finally walking off in the eighth inning with a 3-2 victory when Emery doubled home Joe Lemieux.

The tone was set. The road to Bangor was going to be hard.

“We kind of went into the playoffs feeling like we had what it took to make a deep run,” Muniz said. “And then we got up against Mountain Valley in the first round and they gave us a heck of a game. That was a huge wake-up call.”

Next up was Gorham in the semifinals, and future University of Southern Maine pitcher Colin Loveless. After Greg Creek fanned the heart of the order in the bottom of the sixth and kept the go-ahead run at third and the score knotted at 5, Muniz came up in the top of the seventh and ripped a single to score Emery for the go-ahead run in a 6-5 victory.

“It was an extremely intense game,” Terry Creek said. “That was really big for the team’s confidence. That was easily the toughest game we’d had up to that point.”

In the regional final, Maranacook faced defending champion and top-seeded Greely, and behind Muniz’s left arm battled the Rangers in a tight contest that went into extra innings with the score tied at 3. 

Suddenly, in the ninth, the dam broke. Jared Lemieux doubled, Emery singled, Greg Creek drilled a two-run double and Maranacook was off to what became a seven-run inning, giving the Black Bears all the breathing room they needed in a 10-4 victory.

“That was a high-tension game,” said Muniz, who pitched all nine innings. “But by the time we got to the end of the game and we were right there with them, we just had a growing sense that we were going to get it done.”

“We had to go through Gorham and Greely, who were big teams back then,” Jared Lemieux said. “We were the central Maine boys, coming in and surprising people.”

A new thought emerged. The Black Bears had come too far, and been too tested, to lose now.

“I know I should say we went (into the state final) looking for a battle,” Muniz said, “but that’s not the way I remember it. After we beat Greely, I think we kind of decided we were going to win the whole thing.”

They were right. After a nail-biting trek through the regionals, the state final against Bucksport was anti-climactic, as Maranacook was up 5-0 in the third, 7-0 in the fourth and 11-2 in the fifth. Eight Black Bears had hits that hot afternoon, with Muniz collecting three and Joe Lemieux, Emery and Jared Lemieux — who snuffed out any flickering Bucksport hope by throwing a runner out at home from center field — adding two each.

After getting soaked by the lawn sprinklers, Maranacook’s Jared Lemieux celebrates with his teammates after the Black Bears beat Bucksport 11-6 in the 2000 Class B state championship game in Bangor. Kennebec Journal file photo

“We got some runs early and kind of piled them on,” Jared Lemieux said. “Our bats really showed up. That was the most important thing of the day. … We had guys getting on base all the time, and every inning we were putting pressure on.”

Even the celebration after the final out was memorable, as Mansfield’s sprinklers came on while the team was piling on the field.

The Black Bears didn’t care. On that day, it might as well have been a reward for a job well done, and a season well-played.

“We were just excited. We set our goal for that year, and we didn’t feel we were overachieving, we felt we were finally reaching the level we knew we could play at,” Jared Lemieux said. “We felt like we accomplished something special with that group.”

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