With the end of the Maine American Legion baseball season around the corner, followed by the playoffs at Husson University from July 24-28, teams around the state are taking inventory of their spots in the standings, players at their disposal and how much ground they need to make up to qualify for the postseason. 

Just a few games remain on the calendar for teams like the Turner Bandits, who have four more to go in the regular season as they are settled in second place in the South region with a record of 7-5. 

The Bandits are behind Lewiston-based Pastime Club (10-5) and are followed by Augusta (7-6), Oxford Hills-based Bessey Motors (6-6), Mt. Abram-based Ware Butler (5-8), Erskine (5-7) and Franklin County (3-8). The top four teams in both the South and the North make the playoffs, and currently second place and sixth place in the South are separated by just two games. 

Augusta’s Kyle Douin, right, makes the tag on Bessey Motors’ Andrew Merrill at second during an American Legion game at Morton Field in Augusta earlier this month. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file photo

“It’s going pretty good,” Bandits assistant coach Ryan Palmer said. “We are in second place right now, a couple games over .500. We have had a hard time the last couple games putting the aspects of baseball together, but we are near the top and hopefully the last weekend of the regular season gets us into the state tournament.”

The Bandits have two games with Bangor remaining — one this week, one next — as well as a pair of games Saturday that will ultimately decide their faith. After playing last summer in an independent league, the Bandits have virtually the same team this summer and hope to avenge their state final loss from last year. 

“Our whole team is pretty much intact from last year so the transition was easy,” Palmer said. “We took everything we did last year and converted it over to this year. We play a lot of small ball, we manufacture runs and defensively we play everybody and we move people around that gives us the best chance to win.” 

Fischer Cormier, a post-grad player from Thomas College, was someone Palmer highlighted as a player that has helped the pitching staff and the team. After watching Cormier at Mountain Valley, Palmer will coach him this fall at Central Maine Community College. 

Dallas Berry, a catcher, and Cole Brown, both Dirigo graduates that will also play for Palmer at CM next year, have been integral players for the Bandits, with Brown playing wherever the Bandits need him. Matt Wallingford and Garrett Mollica, two Leavitt grads, have been top pitchers for the Bandits as well. 

For Franklin County and coach Kyle Gunzinger, the season has been rocky at best. 

Franklin County held tryouts a week after the Central Maine Legion team held its tryouts and Hunter Tewksbury from Madison tried out for Franklin County and made the team. Madison is outside of Franklin County’s zone, so Gunzinger and the American Legion had to come to a compromise after Tewksbury had already started playing. 

Gunzinger ended up being suspended three games and Tewksbury two, and the team had to forfeit three games. 

“I should’ve done a better job but Central Maine had already had their tryouts so he came to ours and we found out three weeks into the season that they were going to give us forfeits and the young man wasn’t going to be able to play,” Gunzinger said. “We fought for him and the young man could play, but the forfeits stand. We are listed at 3-8 but based on our actual record playing games we are 6-5. … Let’s just say I have my own feelings on it.”

Franklin County is 2 1/2 half games behind fourth-place Bessey Motors, so the climb is steep to reach the playoffs. Isaac Parker from Spruce Mountain is hitting .440, while Hayden Dippner of Mt. Blue High School is hitting .445. Pitcher Charlie Roberts has a 2.56 ERA while Sam Wrigley has a 3.29 ERA on the mound. 

Ware Butler, as of Wednesday, finds itself on the outside looking in, just 1 1/2 games out of fourth place with a week to play. 

While the team, composed of Mt. Abram High School players and post-grad player Nate Luce, has been on the winning side of some forfeits, its losses have been close. 

“It’s a false-positive,” coach Jamie Phelps said. “We’ve only really won three games but we’ve won two or three games because of forfeit. I think we are 5-7 but we have lost five games by one run each. For our group of kids and where we’re from I am pretty impressed with how we’ve done. It’s all high school kids other than Nate Luce, who came back but can’t make away games because of work, so it is literally our high school kids making most of the noise. It’s good.”

On Tuesday, Ware Butler lost 1-0 to Pastime in a pitcher’s duel. Josh Murphy of Lewiston earned the win for Pastime with 15 strikeouts, while Hunter Warren went the distance for Ware Butler, allowing just one run. It was a good sign for Phelps and the team that they were able to keep it close against an opponent featuring many Class A players. 

“Our ace is Hunter Warren and he went toe-to-toe with Murphy last night,” Phelps said. “Trevor Phelps and Ben Dibiase led our high school team in hits and RBIs and the same with Legion. Kenyon Pillsbury threw four kids out from behind the plate against Pastime last night.”

Ware Butler pitcher Hunter Warren pitches to a Charlie’s Family of Dealerships player during an American Legion game at McGuire Field in Augusta in June. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file photo

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