Teams usually take momentum for granted heading into the state American Legion baseball tournament. After all, most of them either rolled through their own zone tournaments or earned a bye through outstanding regular season play.

But as the cliche goes, momentum in baseball lasts only as long as the next day’s starting pitcher. So over the next five days, eight teams from around the state will be counting on starting pitching to survive the 75th annual state Legion tournament at St. Joseph’s College in Standish.

“Anybody that is coming out of this tournament is going to have to be deeper than three pitchers,” said Bob Blackman, manager of Zone III champion New Auburn. “The bottom line is you’ve got to play five consecutive days, and it’s nine-inning games on top of it.”

The double-elimination tournament begins at 10 a.m. today with Zone III runner-up Bessey Motors taking on Zone II champion Monmouth.

No team is hotter heading into the tournament than Monmouth (23-0), which is making its seventh-straight appearance powered by a deep pitching staff and an offense consisting of players from Maranacook, Winthrop, Monmouth and Oak Hill that averaged more than 10 runs per game in Zone II.

“I would say this is the first summer that I really feel like our defense has been intact all summer and played great, our offense has been getting the big two-out hits and big innings that we need, and our pitching has been deep and really superb,” Monmouth coach Chad Drouin said.

Justin Denbow and Mike Eaton anchor a pitching staff that is saturated with talented southpaws, along with Maine Gatorade High School Player of the Year finalist Josh Jillson, and his former Oak Hill teammate Chris Ellis.

“In the past, this tournament has been an unbelievable grind because we haven’t had this many pitchers,” Drouin added. “When you have a deep pitching staff, playing five days in a row really isn’t a big deal, to be honest with you.”

Eaton, Denbow and University of Maine outfielder Tavis Hasenfus form the heart of a batting order that started to hit its stride during the zone tournament. But Monmouth’s lineup may be most impressive in the front and back thirds. Ethan Guerette, the Player of the Year in Zone II, leads the team in hitting and runs batted in from the leadoff spot.

“That just goes to show what we have at the bottom of our order, really,” Drouin said. “Josh Jillson hits seventh for us and he’s hitting over .600. David Ricker’s got a few home runs and he hits eighth for us.”

Monmouth’s first-round opponent, Bessey Motors (16-7), received some important contributions from the top and bottom of its order while winning the Zone III tournament. Ryan Yates, Justin Frechette and Nigel Cromwell came through with some big hits, while Chris Roy, Ben Goodall and Evan Humphrey showed poise on the mound with some clutch performances.

New Auburn could lay claim to being the hottest team this side of Monmouth. It won its last 10 games during the regular season and needed every one to clinch a bye into the state tournament, where it will meet Zone II runner-up Madison tonight at 7:30 p.m.

Blackman has been practicing his team every other day to keep it sharp during a 10-day layoff. He said his players enjoyed the chance to rest and watch the remainder of Zone III duke it out for the other state berth.

“I like that part. The part I don’t like is we were hitting the ball better than we have all year long in that 10-game stretch,” Blackman said. “That’s one area where I’m a little nervous about us getting a little rust.”

Blackman’s son, former St. Dom’s and current University of Southern Maine pitcher Brady Blackman, anchors both the pitching staff and the lineup. Adam Lutz and Adam Redmun will get the call on the mound early in the tournament. The lineup is balanced, with Lutz and Kevin Smith as the table-setters at the top, with Blackman, Tyler Dorris, Cory LaRue and Bump Heldman providing pop in the middle.

“The first game is a big game for us,” Bob Blackman said. “We haven’t won a game in the two previous years. We’ve opened the eventual state champion in the first game both times and we’ve gone out in two both times.”

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