AUGUSTA — Zack Bean of Westbrook pitched a five-hitter Saturday, but his biggest contribution, said Coach Greg Souza, may have been hustling to first base to beat out a double-play ball.
The hustle play allowed the Blue Blazes to break a scoreless tie in the sixth inning, and Westbrook added a run in the seventh to beat Messalonskee 2-0 and win the Class A baseball state championship at Morton Field.
It was Westbrook’s first state title under the playoff system that began in 1970 — Maine Principals’ Association records also show a title in 1951.
The program had fallen short in state game appearances in 1971 and 2005, but this time Bean’s pitching and running, and the team’s outstanding defense combined with just enough offense completed a remarkable run.
The Blazes (17-3) won their last nine games.
“This championship means a lot,” said Bean. “This doesn’t feel real right now, but it will kick in. Everything started to click for us after we lost the Windham game during the season. Everyone was together after that.”
Messalonskee (12-7) was seeking a second straight state title.
“(Bean) was pitching his butt off on the mound,” said Souza. “He’s not the fastest guy, but he’s all heart and a great athlete. He beat out the double play to give us the go-ahead run. He pitched great, but that was the biggest play of the game.”
With neither team threatening through five innings, something had to give.
It did for the Blazes in the top of the sixth. Ryan Gilligan led off with a walk and Kyle Heath jumped on a first pitch, singling through the hole between third and short. After Keenen Lowe bunted the runners to second and third, the Eagles intentionally walked Derek Bouchard to load the bases.
Up stepped Bean with one out. He grounded to second baseman Jake Dexter, who flipped to Jared Cunningham for the force at second. Cunningham then fired to first.
“When I hit it I was determined to beat it out,” said Bean. “I knew I had to run. I beat the throw by a step, a step and a half.”
The Blazes made it 2-0 on some heads-up baserunning by Kaleb Kent.
Kent led off the seventh with a base hit through the middle. He stole second and went to third on a wild pitch.
After a groundout, where the third baseman fielded it and threw to first, Kent had to hold. But on the next ball contact, Kent was told to head for the plate by Souza, who was coaching third.
This time Collin Joyce hit the exact same grounder to third. As soon as third baseman Ben Frazee threw the ball to first, Kent made a beeline for home and slid past the tag by catcher Trevor Gettig, who took the throw from first.
“Kaleb is a pretty quick kid,” said Souza. “He was going on contact, but he actually went after the third baseman threw it. Kaleb gave us that cushion.”
Hitting was at a premium; Westbrook also managed only four hits against two Messalonskee pitchers.
Starter Patrick Breton kept Westbrook off balance with off-speed stuff and good location. He pitched six innings before being relieved by Devin Warren at the start of the seventh.
The Blazes, having faced faster pitching in the league and regional playoffs, may have been a little over-anxious at the plate.
“I think under the pressure we just wanted to kill it,” said Joyce.
With a two-run cushion, Bean set the Eagles down in order in the bottom of the seventh. The final out was a grounder to Joyce at shortstop, who fired to Lowe at first.
The Blazes piled on one another between the mound and the first-base line in a wild celebration.
“It felt pretty great getting the final out,” said Joyce. “It was an amazing feeling when it left my hand. I knew it was over.
“I just threw my glove up in the air.”
Bean didn’t have any strikeouts but walked only one.
And the Blazes’ defense was outstanding, turning three double plays.
“My fastball was working,” said Bean. “I got a lot of ground- ball outs. Their pitcher pitched well. He kept us off balance. It was just a question of who would score first.”
One of the best defensive plays came in the bottom of the sixth when Lowe let a Bean pickoff throw get away from him.
Lowe hurried to retrieve the ball in foul territory, then flipped to Joyce at second, who tagged the runner out.
“We made all the plays and got the breaks,” said Souza. “It’s hard to get to a state final. You have to be a little lucky.”
Messalonskee Coach Ray Bernier said Westbrook’s defense was outstanding.
“I’m a firm believer in defense wins, and Westbrook definitely played outstanding defense,” he said. “Our pitcher wasn’t expected to go that long, but he kept hitting his spots and kept them off balance.
“Patrick doesn’t throw hard but he knows how to locate his pitches.”
Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: