Editor’s note: This is the 27th 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.

It’s one thing to be a favorite on paper. It’s another to rise and meet expectations.

After a 2017 season that produced a Mountain Valley Conference championship, the Hall-Dale baseball team entered 2018 with most of its roster intact, making the Bulldogs the heavy favorite to not only defend the MVC title, but to possibly take home a Class C championship, a feat the program hadn’t accomplished since 2001.

And thanks to a well-rounded lineup, with strong pitching and defense, the Bulldogs met expectations, edging Houlton 2-1 for the program’s third state title.

“We knew we had a great team from the beginning (of the season),” said center fielder Austin Stebbins. “Winning that MVC championship back in 2017, we had actually no seniors on the roster that year. So we basically brought back everybody into that next year. We thought ‘If we won the conference this year, the sky is the limit for (2018).”

Hall-Dale had no issue with the bat. The Bulldogs had a team batting average of .327 during the 2018 season, as well as a team average of .362 with runners in scoring position. They also outscored their opponents by a margin of 233-44.

“Our lineup was solid, from the leadoff batter of Austin Stebbins all the way to (No. 9 hitter) Josh Nadeau,” Hall-Dale baseball coach Bob Sinclair said. “There was not an easy out in the lineup.”

And while teams may have one ace on its pitching staff, Hall-Dale had two in Dean Jackman and Cole Lockhart.

“I would say definitely one of the strengths was pitching, from the beginning,” Stebbins said. “We had Cole Lockhart and Dean Jackman, those were the two seniors on the team. And then coming right out in our No. 3 spot was Akira Warren, who was our catcher and could have easily been a No. 1 on any other team in the conference. To have him as our No. 3, I think that just showed our pitching depth.”

Hall-Dale pitcher Cole Lockhart celebrates a 2-1 victory over Houlton in the Class C state championship game June 16, 2018 in Standish. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

The Bulldogs jumped out to a 13-0 record to start the season. The lone blemish on Hall-Dale’s record entering the playoffs was a loss to Bridgeway, the team comprised of players from both Carrabec and Madison. The teams had met twice before the playoffs — with Jackman starting both games for Hall-Dale — helping Sinclair make a decision on who would start on the mound for the third meeting, in the semifinal round.

“They had seen (Jackman) twice already in the regular season,” Sinclair said. “Looking into the tournament and how it might match up, I didn’t want them to have a third chance to see Dean as well. Having two No. 1 pitchers, I decided to go with Cole that game… I had total confidence in both of these pitchers, it wasn’t a difficult decision at all. It would just lead Dean into St. Joe’s (in the regional final) against Maranacook.”

The decision worked, with Hall-Dale picking up a 7-3 win.

That left Jackman to start against Maranacook for the Class C South regional final, and he didn’t disappoint. In a battle with Maranacook ace Dan Garand, Jackman proved to have the better stuff, tossing a three-hit shutout in a 4-0 win. He struck out nine in the contest, including four in the last two innings to close out the game.

“With Dean, the bigger the games, the more important the games, the better he became,” Sinclair said. “That showed in that game and throughout the season.”

The Bulldogs scored all four runs in the fifth inning, including an RBI single by Stebbins that broke the 0-0 tie.

“I remember going into that game and wondering who we were going to face (on the mound) from Maranacook,” Stebbins said. “They had two great pitchers. They had Dan Garand, who was a senior, and they had Jay Lauter, a lefty who was a junior that year… They ended up throwing Garand, who pitched a great game, but I guess we just got it done (offensively). We broke it out in about the fourth or fifth inning, and Dean just pitched a hell of a game from there. He just shut everybody down.”

In order to capture the state title, the Bulldogs had to face Houlton, a team that lost in the Class C North final each of the previous two seasons.

Hall-Dale’s Austin Stebbins hits against Houlton during the Class C state championship game June 16, 2018 in Standish. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

The matchup took place June 16 at Mahaney Diamond at St. Joseph’s College in Standish. Lockhart was tabbed to start on the mound, and as he put it, he was feeling “in the zone” before the game began.

“I had head phones on, I was totally locked in,” Lockhart said. “There was no way anybody was getting me out of the zone… The Class A (title game) was before (the Class C game), I was just laser-focused watching that. I couldn’t get my focus off, I was just ready to hit the mound.”

Lockhart had, as he put it, the best outing of his career. In 79 pitches, he threw 54 strikes, giving up three hits. He did, however, give up the first run of the game, when Houlton’s Keegan Gentle hit an RBI single to left to put the Shiretowners up 1-0 in the first inning.

“That has to be the best game I’ve ever pitched in my life,” Lockhart said. “What a time to do it, right? There’s no better time to do it than in a state championship game. Everything was going that day, it felt amazing.”

Lockhart made up for the earned run at the plate the next inning, when he scored Warren on an RBI groundout, tying the game 1-1.

From there, Lockhart took over on the mound. Houlton wouldn’t score another run, and wouldn’t get another hit from the third inning on. The Bulldogs scored the game-winning run in the third, when an Alec Byron single plated Logan Dupont for a 2-1 lead, a score that would remain for the rest of the contest, as Lockhart retired 13 of the final 14 hitters, locking up the first Class C title for the Bulldogs in 17 years.

“With many of these ballplayers, I had coached them since the Little League years, so it was special and I cherish that game every day,” Sinclair said. “It was a goal that we had set earlier in the season, and even back in 2017 when we knew we had a team that had the potential to win a state championship. But just because you have a team on paper that has the ability to win a state championship, you’ve got to really come together as a team and meet your potential. That’s what we were able to do in 2018.”

“We were part of a family,” Lockhart said. “It was just such a great group, we were so close knit, it was amazing. Those were the best years of my life.”

 

Dave Dyer – 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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