BANGOR — Chandler Longfellow didn’t have to look at the scoreboard. He knew Wiscasset had a one-run lead and was two outs away from winning the state baseball title that would crown its improbable season.
“I was focused on getting the second out,” said the senior who knew the history of Wiscasset baseball too well. “That’s how we’re taught to play the game. Then we get the third out.”
Bangor Christian scored the tying run before the second out. It scored the winning run an inning later to claim its third straight Class D title, 5-4. Longfellow, who relieved starting pitcher Daren Wood, led his teammates off the field.
Yes, shoulders slumped and some heads were down when they gathered around Coach Mike Bowles. If the players wanted solace or emotional salve they could have thought back three months when they didn’t have a coach and maybe wouldn’t have a team.
At one point, Wiscasset’s team was down to nine players. That’s the minimum. You can play with eight but don’t expect to win. For 21/2 weeks Bowles prayed no one would get hurt.
As Bangor Christian whooped, hollered and jumped on each other’s backs, the moment hurt. Wiscasset had never won a baseball state title.
“We went through a lot of adversity,” said Longfellow. “We thought we could win this game. But I’ll take pride in what we did.” Wiscasset went into the game with a 10-9 record. Bangor Christian was 17-1.
Longfellow and fellow seniors Cassius Carr and Nate Howard and the rest of their teammates helped give their community a sense of the identity it had lost. Life in Wiscasset, which has touted itself as the “prettiest town in Maine,” has been discouraging if not difficult.
The Maine Yankee nuclear plant closed in 1997 and jobs were lost. Taxes were lost. Fewer families moved in. High school enrollment shriveled to 199, maybe half of the past.
Bowles, hired before the spring, looked at the schedule and realized no one had scheduled preseason games. In early March he posted a plea on mbr.org. He picked up four valuable practice games. Limestone, from up in Aroostook County, said it would come to Wiscasset to play. So did Sacopee Valley.
When the baseball sign-up sheet was posted, Bowles counted 21 names. Five didn’t show. Three walked away after the first practice. He was down to 13. One player was told to leave after breaking school rules. Another quit.
Bowles had 11 players. Grades are checked every two weeks and two more players were lost.
The grades of two of his suspended players improved and Bowles got them back. Wiscasset went into the tournament with 11 players and kept winning. When it won the Western Maine title, Athletic Director Sarah Ricker noticed a different feeling in the school hallways.
A female student came up to Ricker: “We finally won something,” she cried. The girl didn’t play sports. Ricker hadn’t thought she would care.
“I’ve seen the signs go up in front of the rec center and in front of community businesses,” said Ricker. “People have noticed and they’re excited. These 11 boys are awesome. They had a season where they really learned about themselves.”
Bowles learned he could be a head coach. He’s 36 and works at a school for challenged students in Lewiston. He applied for seven or eight head coaching jobs but when his resume showed no experience as a head coach, he didn’t get the jobs.
Until Ricker saw something that made her think Bowles would be a good match.
Wiscasset had about 100 fans at the final. Win or lose, a reception was planned at the high school, with a fire truck, police car or both as an escort.
The Wiscasset baseball team lost the game. It won a lot more.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: