June 16, 2013

Class A baseball: Westbrook ends long title drought

The Blue Blazes dethrone Messalonskee and earn their first state championship since 1951.

By Tom Chard tchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

click image to enlarge

There was a point when the Westbrook baseball team had to address the reasons it wasn't playing as well as it should. Problems addressed and a month later, Class A state title won, with a 2-0 victory against Messalonskee.

Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

click image to enlarge

Zack Bean didn’t have any strikeouts for Westbrook, but he didn’t need any. He allowed just five hits and was backed by a defense that helped propel the Blue Blazes to the Class A baseball title.

Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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