The Ellsworth Eagles baseball team surges toward the stands Tuesday evening after winning the Class B North championship. Ellsworth rallied to knot the game 2-2 in the sixth inning and scored the deciding run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh for a 3-2 victory over Old Town and another shot for a state crown. The Bucksport Trojans baseball teams won the Class C North tournament. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MALACHY FLYNN

Resilient Eagles returning to state championship

By Ken Waltz and Malachy Flynn

ORONO — Undeterred by early frustrations and the inability to break through offensively against a top-notch pitcher, unflappable Ellsworth proved, once again, why it was ranked first in Class B North baseball during the regular season.

After another memorable, some might say epic, late-game comeback, the Eagles are regional champions and will vie for a state title over the weekend.

When nothing seemed to work in the early going of Tuesday’s regional championship game, and their remarkable campaign seemingly slipping away, the talented Eagles stayed the course, and believed their talent, positive attitude and weeks of hard work would allow them to fly to the top.

And they were correct.

The No. 1 Eagles (18-1) trailed No. 2 Old Town (13-7) 2-0 after five innings and seemed stuck in mud. Then Ellsworth rallied to knot the game 2-2 in the sixth inning and scored the deciding run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh for a 3-2 victory and another shot at a state crown.

It took late-game heroics, similar to what the Eagles got in the semifinals against Lawrence, to pull out Tuesday’s regional championship victory on the artificial turf field at Mahaney Diamond on the University of Maine campus.

With the win, Ellsworth will play Freeport (16-4, No. 3 in South) for the state Class B championship on Saturday, June 18, at 4:30 p.m. at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham.

Freeport upset No. 1 Greely of Cumberland (18-2) 2-1 in the South final.

The Eagles are no strangers to state championship games. In fact, Ellsworth has played in nine previous state diamond contests since 1976 —winning in 1983, 1987, 1988 and 2019 (a 2-0 victory over, ironically, Freeport). In fact, Freeport has lost the last two state finals, sandwiched between no spring high school athletic season in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Since 1976, the Eagles have won 10 regional baseball crowns.

Ellsworth’s roster includes Hunter Curtis, Michael Palmer, Daniel Howie, Brett Bragdon, David Baugh, Craig Burnett, Billy Garland, Drew Cote, Peter Keblinsky, Brady Kenny, Wyatt Bragdon, Camden Barker, Kyle Kenny, Luke Horne, Hunter Boles, Brayden King, Hollis Grindal and Miles Palmer. The head coach is Dan Curtis, while the assistant coaches are Mike Clough and Scott Kenny. Jacob Powell is the athletic trainer and Lisa Folmer the statistician.

Ellsworth’s Craig Burnett tosses a pitch to an Old Town batter on June 14 in the Class B North high school baseball championship game at the University of Maine in Orono. The Eagles beat the Coyotes 3-2 in dramatic fashion and play for the state title against Freeport on June 18 at 1 p.m. at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham. PHOTO BY KEN WALTZ

Old Town’s roster includes Grayson Thibeault, Benjamin Dickey, Isaac Hayes, Preston Bose, Peyton Bose, Blaine Murray, Aidan Rand, Joshua Harvey, Connor McCannell, Noah Thibodeau, Alex McCannell, Gabriel Gifford, James Dumond, Jackson Lizzotte, Jordan Craft, Austyn Moores and Brendan Mahaney. The head coach is Justin Cristafulli and assistant coaches are Chase Vicaire, Matt Seymour, Don Duty and Griffen Henderson. Grayson Thibeault is statistician and student manager and Garrett Rife the athletic trainer.

In Tuesday’s regional championship game for the Eagles, who tallied their runs in the final two frames, Hunter Curtis (single, 2 runs), Keblinsky (2 singles), King (run, stolen base) and Baugh (2 singles, game-winning hit, steal) keyed the offense.

For Old Town, which scored one run in the second inning and one in the fifth, Gifford (2 singles), Thibodeau (single), Mahaney (single), Connor McCannell (triple, run) and Alex MacCannell (run) keyed play from the batter’s box.

Craig Burnett (5 hits, 2 walks, no strikeouts) proved consistent on the bump for Ellsworth as he pitched a complete-game gem. Gifford, a hard-throwing left-hander, and Craft pitched for Old Town, and allowed five hits, six walks (three intentional) and fanned 13.

“We knew tonight was going to be tough,” said Eagle coach Dan Curtis. “Gabe Gifford is one of the best pitchers in Maine, and, basically, when you’re facing a guy like that you just have to weather the storm and hope you can break through at some point. We came through when we had to.”

Ellsworth got back in the game in the bottom of the sixth as Hunter Curtis, Keblinsky and Baugh had singles to knot the game 2-2. In the bottom of the seventh, the game-deciding rally came as Miles Palmer walked and was moved to second by Brady Kenny’s sacrifice bunt, before Miles Palmer moved to third on a passed ball and stood 90 feet from the plate — with the winning run.

Hunter Curtis and Brett Bragdon were intentionally walked to load the bases to set up a force at each base. That strategy initially worked when Old Town pulled in its infield and Miles Palmer was thrown out from second base to the catcher on Peter Keblinsky’s fielder’s choice.

Now, with two outs and the bases still loaded David Baugh wore the hero’s cleats with a single to plate Hunter Curtis with the deciding run. That led to delirium, pandemonium and a celebration by Eagle players in the outfield.

Right fielder Billy Garland proved busy with a number of early catches and even assisted on a relay to cut down a runner at the plate after a triple from Old Town’s Connor MacCannell in the second. That fine relay went from Garland to first baseman Baugh to catcher Brett Bragdon. Shortstop Keblinsky also was steady defensively, as he helped turned a double play in the first inning and later made strong plays — one in the hole and the other charging a challenging hop.

The Eagles, who also defeated Old Town 2-0 and 9-2 during the regular season, beat No. 9 Hermon 3-0 in the quarterfinals and No. 4 Lawrence 3-2 with a late rally in the semifinals.

Old Town bested No. 15 Presque Isle 11-0 in the prelims, No. 7 Mount Desert Island 10-4 in the quarterfinals and No. 11 Foxcroft Academy 11-1 in the semifinals.

Coach Curtis said his squad planned to enjoy another thrilling, if not nerve-wracking, playoff comeback victory before it prepares for its next opponent.

“We’re going to enjoy this tonight, take a day off,” Curtis said. “It’s been a long season; we won’t change a thing. We’ll just keep doing what we do and be mentally prepared, as well as physically, in states.”

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