STANDISH — After 31 years, the Ellsworth baseball team is back on top.
This one was a grind; for Ellsworth players and coaches, few games this year have been more nerve-wracking. Yet by providing the dominant pitching and timely hitting they’ve been putting forth all season long, the Eagles are bringing a Gold Glove back to Downeast Maine.
Ellsworth won the Class B championship for the fourth time in program history Saturday evening with a 2-0 victory over Freeport in the state title game at St. Joseph’s College in Standish. The win came as the Eagles combined a dominant pitching effort from senior Matt Burnett with a two-run fifth inning to claim their first state title since 1988.
“It’s something that’s beyond words,” Burnett said. “To fight through this game, to fight all year long and win a state championship in the final game for us seniors is just unreal. It’s going to take a bit to set in.”
After both teams went down in order in the first inning, Freeport pitcher Shea Wagner got out of a jam in the second when Ellsworth (19-1) stranded Burnett and Hunter Curtis despite putting the two runners on base with no outs. Yet Burnett recorded a strikeout and two fly-ball outs in the bottom of the inning to keep the game scoreless through two.
Ellsworth, the top seed in Class B North, put two runners on base once more in the top of the third but again failed to score. Burnett then struck out three batters in the bottom of the inning before the Eagles left the bases loaded in the top of the fourth.
“We were hitting the ball all game, but we didn’t have anything to show for it for most of it,” Ellsworth head coach Dan Curtis said. “We just had to dig deep and find that inning where we could get those couple of runs.”
The fifth inning would be that inning for Ellsworth. After Tyler Mitchell, Devin Grindle and Jackson Curtis singled against Wagner to load the bases with no outs, Burnett gave the Eagles a 1-0 lead with a sacrifice fly to center against reliever Blaine Cockburn. Ellsworth then executed a double steal to make the score 2-0 before Cockburn stopped the bleeding for Freeport (16-4) with back-to-back strikeouts.
“We got used to his curveball,” Mitchell said of Ellsworth’s three consecutive hits off Wagner to begin the fifth inning. “He was throwing a curveball every third or first pitch, and we were able to figure it out.”
The Eagles didn’t get a hit the rest of the way, but it didn’t matter. Burnett got three straight outs in the fifth after allowing a single to start the inning, and after overcoming two walks in the sixth, the senior standout got two flyouts to start the seventh before striking the final batter out looking to win it for a jubilant Ellsworth team.
“It took about five seconds for it to register, but when I started running in [from the outfield], all the emotions started to pour out,” Ellsworth senior Conner Wagstaff said. “To come all the way back after last year, make it one game further and win, I can’t even explain it.”
Ellsworth finished the game with eight hits at the plate and no errors in the field, and Freeport, the No. 3 seed in Class B South, had three hits and one error. Burnett recorded eight strikeouts and three walks on the mound to earn the win in his last start as an Eagle.
Like Ellsworth, Freeport entered the game on an eight-game winning streak. The Falcons had knocked off No. 2 Greely in last Saturday’s Southern Maine semifinal showdown before Cockburn produced a dominant pitching performance Tuesday to earn a win over top-ranked York in the Class B South title game.
“They’re one of the best teams we’ve seen,” Dan Curtis said. “They have great pitching, and they were sound defensively. I think that just makes Matt’s performance even better.”
For Ellsworth, which entered the year with one of the state’s top pitching duos in Burnett and Wagstaff, a strong season was in the cards from the very beginning. The Eagles have been mum publicly about their team goals, but after last year’s Northern Maine title game loss to Brewer, this team has had its mind on returning to — and winning in — the championship rounds.
“We kept our goals simple, and I think that makes it all the more special,” Curtis said. “Our guys never said the words out loud, but they knew what they were capable of.”
Whereas last season ended with a heartbreaking loss in the Northern Maine championship game, this one ended with two long fist pumps from Burnett and the Eagles mobbing one another on the pitcher’s mound. There were hugs, there were tears of joy and there was, most importantly, a Gold Glove.
Names such as Wagstaff, Burnett, Jackson Curtis, Hunter Curtis, Devin Grindle and more will enter Ellsworth and Maine high school baseball lore after bringing both regional and state championships back home. Yet the Eagles would not let their head coach, whose vision of restoring Ellsworth to its glory days of the 1980s has been realized after five years at the helm, be forgotten.
“To win our last game with the guy who has brought us all the way up through it is incredible,” Wagstaff said. “Dan Curtis is a baseball genius, and he’s believed in all of us and pushed us to be great every step of the way.”