Franklin County pitcher Miles Pelletier throws during first game of an American Legion doubleheader against Augusta on Saturday in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)
AUGUSTA — The start of the American Legion baseball doubleheader between Franklin County and Augusta was delayed 26 minutes Saturday morning while the visiting Flyers waited for a ninth player to show up.
The absence was symptomatic of baseball in general, and Legion baseball in particular throughout the state. The number of teams statewide has dropped to 18 this year from a high of nearly 50 just a decade ago.
“It’s a hard game to play,” Franklin coach Kyle Gunzinger said. “And kids get pulled in a lot of different directions in the summer.”
Franklin got its ninth player in time to start and won the first game, 3-1, behind a strong pitching performance from Miles Pelletier. The Rams came back in Game 2, winning 8-1 behind pitcher Cole Lockhart and some timely hitting.
Augusta is 6-4 in Zone 2 and would like to secure one of the top three spots among the eight teams in the zone to enhance its chances of reaching the state tournament. Otherwise, the Rams will get thrown into a single-elimination zone tournament. Franklin County is 2-9.
Pelletier, who was the ace at Mt. Blue High School a year ago and will be a sophomore at the University of Maine, scattered seven hits, walked one and struck out 11 in an efficient 104-pitch effort.
“I was using a lot of curves, and I was throwing the knuck at the end quite a bit,” Pelletier said. “We had a bigger zone today and that’s nice.”
Pelletier’s counterpart, Jay Lauter, pitched equally well, displaying a lively fastball and a hard-breaking curve while walking one and fanning 14.
“It’s too bad we couldn’t get any runs for him,” Augusta coach Taylor Lockhart said. “We came out flat and we weren’t hitting.”
The Flyers scored the only runs they needed in the second inning when Bo Beaulieu led off with a single, stole second and scored on Kyle Fox’s two-out base hit to right. Pelletier, who was hit by a pitch and moved to third on Fox’s single, scored on a infield hit from Ethan Andrews.
The Rams collected three of their seven hits in the first inning but failed to score when Greg Fay was thrown out by left fielder Sean Testa while trying to go from first to third on Ryan Kappelmann’s single.
The Flyers stymied another Rams rally in the fifth when Andrews threw out speedy leadoff hitter Austin Stebbins with a perfect throw to second base. Pelletier gave up an unearned run in the fifth when Lockhart reached on an error and scored on Lauter’s single to left.
“I love baseball,” Pelletier said. “This is my favorite team I’ve even played for because of the atmosphere. It’s super laid back.”
Lauter left the game with one out in the seventh after reaching the 105-pitch limit mandated by Legion rules. The Flyers added a run in the inning on an RBI hit from Alex Philbrick.
Cole Lockhart gave up an unearned run in the first inning of Game 2 but was fairly untouchable after that.
“My curveball was going well,” said Lockhart, who struck out eight and walked one. “I let them hit the ball and let my defense do the work.”
Beaulieu, a recent Rangeley graduate, started Game 2 and struggled with his control. The Rams also collected some timely hits from the bottom of their batting order. They tied the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the second when Dean Jackman singled and later scored on a balk. No. 9 hitter Tim Cookson doubled home a pair of runs in the fourth, and No. 8 batter Glenn Guerette doubled home two more in the sixth as Augusta took a 5-1 lead.
The 80-degree temperatures and the lack of any substitutes began to take its toll on the Flyers.
“After about 11 innings the gas tank started to empty,” Gunzinger said.
Augusta added three runs in the sixth, the big hit a run-scoring double from Kappelmann. Stebbins finished the doubleheader with three hits, while Fay, Jackman and Kappelmann collected two apiece.
Nick Lombardi and Bryce Gunzinger each had two hits for the Flyers.
Augusta second basemen Aric Belanger, left, waits for the throw as Franklin County base runner Bo Beaulieu is safe at second during an American Legion game Saturday in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)
Franklin County’s Ethan Andrews sprints first but can’t beat the throw to Augusta first baseman Patrick Rush during an American Legion doubleheader Saturday in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)