BANGOR — For such an accomplished baseball team, Buckfield has overcome its share of frightful first innings and daunting early deficits.
Five runs and three errors Saturday were simply too much, particularly against a team quick and relentless as Bangor Christian.
The Patriots pushed the issue throughout and pulled away to win the first Class D baseball championship in school history, 7-3, at Mansfield Stadium.
“Most of the others have already won a state title in soccer, but this is my first so it’s extra special,” said Bangor Christian sophomore shortstop Cody Collins, who was 3-for-4 with four RBIs.
Collins’ two-run double was the closest thing to a knockout punch landed by Bangor Christian (19-2). Two singles, three Buckfield errors, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly inflicted the remaining damage in the opening round.
Buckfield (17-2) rose from the deck and put the potential tying run at the plate in both the fourth and fifth innings before the Patriots and junior right-hander Ben Bragg escaped.
Bragg struck out nine and walked three. He retired the final seven Bucks in order.
“We knew he was going to be around the plate, which he was,” Buckfield coach Joe McLaughlin said of Bragg. “We knew he wasn’t going to walk many. We didn’t get the hits in bunches. He made some big pitches.”
Sophomore Jonah Williams had three of the five hits for Buckfield, which is now 0-for-5 in Class D finals. This was the Bucks’ first trip to the title game since 1997.
Buckfield committed five errors in all and was victimized by four walks and four stolen bases. Three of the thefts were by Bangor Christian’s lone senior, Brad Wilcox.
“We haven’t had that happen before,” said McLaughlin, whose Bucks fell behind Valley 2-0 in the first inning of Thursday‘s Western final. “I was really proud of the guys the way they stayed with it. Take away that first inning and we have a game, but that’s the way baseball goes. You’ve got to play all seven.”
Cody White gave a gritty effort in his final performance for Buckfield. Working on a single day’s rest after throwing 51 pitches to get Thursday’s save, White scattered nine hits and struck out five.
Five of Bangor Christian’s runs were unearned.
Staked to the early advantage, the quick-working Bragg took advantage of a generous outside corner.
“We had to expand our zone,” said McLaughlin “He kept us off-balance. I think that’s the best way to put it. His breaking stuff was decent.”
Zac Palmeter’s leadoff single and Wilcox’s walk set the stage for Collins’ two-bagger to left field in the bottom of the first.
Bragg followed with an RBI single and Rem Poulin drew a four-pitch walk. Bragg scored on Tucker Rice’s fly to center. Poulin raced home from second, aided first by an errant cutoff throw on the sacrifice fly, then by another Buckfield misfire in an attempt to peg him at third.
“That (five runs) came as a surprise. We knew we were due. We just put together a solid inning and kept it going,” Collins said. “We’ve made teams uncomfortable all year with our speed on the basepaths, and it just paid off.”
White bolstered the Bucks when he stranded three Patriots on base in the bottom of the third, and the energy carried over into Buckfield’s next turn at the plate.
Williams and Alan Lebel started the fourth inning with singles, moving into scoring position on the strength of a wild pitch and a stolen base, respectively.
Austin Dooley’s one-out chopper to the mound drew a wide throw to first from Bragg, scoring both Bucks.
Bragg walked Dalton Hart and delivered two wild pitches, plating Dooley before he coaxed a fly out from White and a ground out from Garrett Hamann.
“At the beginning I could throw it pretty well,” Bragg said. “Toward the end when they got the runs I was off a little bit.”
Wilcox singled and stole both second and third ahead of a Collins line drive that made it 6-3 in the Bangor Christian fourth.
Trevor Averill led the Buckfield fifth with a single, but Poulin threw him out trying to steal. That dismissal was magnified when Williams singled with two out, inviting Bragg to intentionally walk Lebel before getting Dustin Damon to bounce out.
“He’s been great all year. A lot of credit goes to him,” Collins said of Bragg. “He’s done a great job.”
David Peters and Palmeter both singled in the sixth, furnishing the chance for Collins’ third run-scoring base hit of the day.
Bragg needed only six pitches to close out the seventh.
“This is one of my favorite teams I’ve ever coached. They keep it fun,” McLaughlin said. “They love to compete and that’s all you can ask for. That’s the best team we played all year. That may not be any consolation to them.”