OAKLAND — Playing Skowhegan had already given Eric Palin some gray hairs. Neither of the Messalonskee baseball team’s encounters with the River Hawks to date, though, had been like this.

The fourth-year Messalonskee head coach’s players had barely gotten their cleats dirty before a rain delay of 1 hour, 37 minutes threw a wrench into the Eagles’ rubber match with Skowhegan. Then, a game that had everything — home runs, close plays, some controversy and a suspenseful finish — put him on edge.

“I’m still in my early 30s — I’m only 33 years old — but I feel like I already feel them popping up in my beard a little bit,” Palin said. “I try to stay in the moment, and I’m obviously nervous for the guys in the moment, but when you pull it off, it’s the greatest feeling there is.”

Messalonskee did pull it off Saturday, beating Skowhegan 6-5 in the Class A North semifinals to clinch a regional final berth against Bangor on Tuesday at Morton Field in Augusta. The game saw home runs from the Eagles’ Ty Bernier and Michael Achorn and the River Hawks’ Jason Aubin. Garrett Card added three hits for Messalonskee.

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Messalonskee pitcher Denny Martin got Skowhegan’s Chance Tibbetts to ground out to begin the game before taking No. 2 hitter Noah McMahon to a 3-0 count. Before that at-bat could finish, though, the skies unleashed a torrential downpour that sent players scurrying to the dugout.

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Between waiting out the rain, re-preparing the field and waiting the standard 30 minutes after each roar of thunder, it wasn’t until 2:48 p.m. that the two teams resumed. The wait had No. 2 Messalonskee (15-3) antsy in the dugout, but the Eagles were ultimately able to stay locked in.

“Honestly, mentally, it was good and bad,” Card said. “The bad was just sitting there, obviously, and the delay and waiting it over, but the good was mentally staying focused and mentally realizing that we have to stay focused for the game because we want to win.”

When the game resumed, Martin walked McMahon and Brendan Dunlap to bring Aubin to the plate for No. 3 Skowhegan (10-8). Aubin then singled for the River Hawks, but Parker Reynolds made a great throw from left field to nail McMahon at the plate before Trevor Austin flied out to end the top of the first.

Bernier then hit a home run to right field with two outs in the bottom of the first to give Messalonskee a 1-0 lead. Skowhegan answered in the top of the second on a Jack Fitzpatrick RBI single, but Messalonskee replied with two-out hits from Card (double) and Cash Bizier (single) to pull ahead 3-1.

“That felt nice; (it was my) first one ever in a varsity game,” Bernier said of his solo shot to put Messalonskee on the board first. “I mean, I thought it was extra bases off the bat, too, but it just got out.”

Skowhegan tied it back up in the top of the third as Aubin hit a two-run home run to left to bring in Dunlap. Messalonskee’s Garrett Giguere then singled in Reynolds in the bottom of the third before, in the fourth, a long fly ball by Achorn that appeared to land to the left of the foul pole was instead ruled a home run to make it 5-3.

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Messalonskee would make it a three-run lead in the bottom of the sixth, but in the seventh, Skowhegan would make the Eagles sweat. After Martin hit two batters to begin the inning, Sean Achorn came on in relief for the home team. Achorn gave up a single to Chance Tibbetts before walking McMahon to bring in a run.

Messalonskee’s faith in its freshman pitcher, though, was unshaken. Achorn struck out Dunlap for the first out before getting a pop out to first. He would then walk Austin to make it a 6-5 game but bounced back by striking out Jackson Hight, cementing the Eagles’ berth in the Northern Maine title game.

“That was all mental toughness,” Palin said. “He’s a freshman, so I know he’s probably feeling the butterflies up there, but I think he trusted that he’s been doing it all season and knew that this was just another game. There’s nobody we trust in that situation more than Sean Achorn to close out a game for us like that.”

“I really wasn’t worried, to be honest,” Card added. “I was like, ‘All right; we’re going to see it through, we’re going to get this out, and we’re going to go to Northerns,’ and we ended up doing that. Sean had a great pitch at the end. … We have so much faith in him, and Denny did an amazing job today. It was just a team effort.”

Martin got the win for Messalonskee, striking out five batters and walking three in six innings of work before Achorn came in to earn the save. Silas Tibbetts pitched 4 1/3 innings in the loss for Skowhegan, which had six hits to Skowhegan’s 10. Both teams committed one error.


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