Emery Chickering bats for Bessey Motors in an American Legion baseball state tournament game against Coastal Landscape at Husson University in Bangor on Tuesday. (Adam Robinson/Sun Journal)
BANGOR — Defense has been Bessey Motors’ calling card all season. When things went wrong, the players knew their defense would bail them out eventually.
Against Coastal Landscape on Tuesday night, Bessey used its defense to help birthday boy Jonny Pruett on the mound, who threw seven innings of five-hit baseball to earn a 3-1 win.
Bessey will face Coffee News, of Bangor, on Wednesday at 4 p.m., and the winner of that will get a shot at Coastal for the American Legion state championship.
“I trust my defense a lot because I feel like we are the best defense in the state, by far,” Pruett said. “I trust all my teammates, and our team chemistry is crazy.”
Pruett settled in early, allowing just one hit and five base runners in total over the first four innings. Coastal stranded a runner in the first, followed by getting its leadoff hitter, James Sinclair, on in the second before catcher Wyatt Williamson threw a bullet to second to catch him stealing. One of Pruett’s closest friends, Williamson came up big when Bessey needed him on Tuesday.
“I love Wyatt, he has been one of my best friends since I can remember,” Pruett said. “He makes great plays, throws the ball hard down to second and he delivered today, that’s for sure. It makes it a lot easier and I appreciate that.”
In the third, Williamson caught another runner stealing, then two batters later Janek Luksza made a diving stop at shortstop and a perfect throw to first to end the inning.
“As a pitcher myself, it definitely takes a lot of pressure off the pitcher knowing your teammates have your back,” Williamson said. “Say the first batter of the inning gets on, you just make a good play and get them out and it helps the pitcher a lot.”
On offense, it took Bessey a couple of innings to get the bats going, as it has all tournament. In the bottom of the third, Williamson hit a single to lead off the inning. Brayden Bean followed by laying down a bunt that allowed Williamson to move to second and put Bean at first. A wild pitch by Coastal pitcher Dominic Morrill allowed both runners to get into scoring position for Pruett, who grounded out but drove in Williamson for an important 1-0 lead.
“We’re not scoring a ton of runs and that’s the bottom line,” head coach Shane Slicer said. “We can’t string together three or four so we can’t sit back. I think we play a little looser when we get a lead, so sometimes just getting one run ahead makes us feel good.”
Cam Slicer was up next and drove a ball deep into the outfield to score Bean to make it 2-0. Bessey’s two-run lead was all Pruett needed.
In the fifth, Coastal’s Tanner Bernier doubled to left to lead off the inning. Pruett was able to get the next two batters out before walking Jack Lynch. Griffin Watson drove a ball deep into left but his fly ball was caught at the warning track to help Pruett escape another jam. Not usually a pitcher, Pruett took on the challenge head-on when it was presented to him.
“I had to tell myself to throw strikes because that’s what I am here for,” Pruett said. “I’m not really usually a pitcher, but my team needed me and I just came to throw strikes and deliver. Coach said, ‘Pruett, you’re on the mound.’ And I was OK with that.”
Bessey tacked on another run in the bottom of the sixth after Pruett got his team out of yet another jam. Luksza walked to lead off the inning and was later driven in on a single by Ashton Kennison to make it 3-0.
The top of the seventh signaled Coastal’s last chance to tie or take a lead and the desperate offense tested Pruett the best it could. Coastal’s first two batters reached and a sacrifice fly by Lynch scored his team’s only run. Through all of it, Williamson knew his friend would be fine on the mound.
“We have been playing for a long time, he was on my all-star team, we are really good friends,” Williamson said. “We had to get some runs and we knew Jonny was going to throw strikes. We thought we were going to have to score more runs than that but it worked out good.”