ELLSWORTH — Playing in its biggest game of the season to date, the Ellsworth baseball team took its game to another level.
Ellsworth, which entered the Class B North semifinals having outscored its opponents 118-16 over the course of its 14-game winning streak, has played some of the state’s best baseball all season long. Yet with the chance to compete for the regional title on the line this time, the Eagles put together a masterpiece to inch closer to history.
Ellsworth took control of the game early and never took its foot off the gas Saturday to record a 12-0 triumph over Oceanside in the Class B North playoffs. The mercy rule-shortened win marked back-to-back playoff shutouts for the Eagles and gave the team a spot in the Northern Maine championship game.
“Teams can choose whether they want to play to win or play not to lose, and we’re playing to win,” Ellsworth head coach Dan Curtis said. “It’s a matter of mindset, and these kids have that mindset and go out and show it each and every game.”
Ellsworth pitcher Matt Burnett gave the Eagles a solid start to the game with three strikeouts in the first inning. Jackson Curtis then hit a two-run triple to highlight a five-run first inning to give the Eagles (17-1) a decent cushion as they entered the second.
“I was just locked in and focused, and I found one I liked and drove it a long way out there,” the junior said of his triple to deep left-center field. “We had put a bunch of runners on base but only had one run to show for it so far [at that point]. I needed to come through for my team, and I found a way.”
Burnett struck out the side again in the top of the second inning, and Ellsworth stretched its lead to 6-0 in the bottom half when Sam Horne hit a single to score Jared Hamilton. That one-run inning was a precursor to a five-run third as the Eagles cruised to a double-digit lead en route to a workmanlike victory over the visiting Mariners (15-4).
Every Ellsworth player had at least one hit in the win. The Eagles batted around in both the first and third innings and scored half of their 12 runs with two outs.
“We’ve been able to come through in a lot of those situations with two outs, and that’s something that’s helped us take charge in a lot of games this year,” Dan Curtis said. “The kids know when they have to deliver, and it’s just a matter of them settling down, taking a deep breath and hitting those line drives.”
Burnett finished the game with nine strikeouts for the Eagles in five innings of work to improve his record to 8-0 on the season. Little went wrong on the mound for the junior pitcher, who was recently crowned both Pitcher of the Year and Player of the Year in the Penobscot Valley Conference.
“Every pitch I threw was working for me today,” Burnett said. “Those strikeouts right away got me going because I was able to get into my rhythm, and I just fueled myself off of that and kept it up the rest of the game.”
Just two days earlier, Ellsworth had posted an 8-0 win over No. 8 Nokomis (11-7) in the regional quarterfinals. That result ended the Warriors’ streak of 34 games without being shut out and marked the second year in a row the Eagles had beaten them in the playoffs.
Ellsworth’s next game will be against second-ranked Brewer (13-5) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 13, at Bangor’s Mansfield Stadium. When the Eagles met Brewer earlier this season, they came from behind with three runs in the top of the seventh inning to beat the Witches on the road 4-2.
A win in that game would send Ellsworth to the Class B championship game for the first time since the 1992 season. From there, one more victory would give the team its first state title in 30 years.
“Brewer is a good team, and we saw the last time we played that they do basically everything well,” Curtis said. “Fortunately, we’re going to have all of our pitchers ready to go as well, and we have a lineup that’s full of confidence right now. We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing all along.”