ELLSWORTH — They’re back.
Ever since falling to Brewer in last season’s Class B North championship game at Mansfield Stadium, the Ellsworth baseball team has been longing for another chance at a regional title. Now, after one of their best performances of the season, the Eagles will get a shot at redemption on the same field.
Ellsworth clinched its second consecutive appearance in the Northern Maine title game with a 6-0 victory Saturday over Medomak Valley at Ellsworth High School. The win came via a masterful pitching effort from senior Matt Burnett and another display of late-inning offense from a team that has found runs when it’s needed them all season long.
“We were locked in,” Ellsworth head coach Dan Curtis said. “Matt was great, and we played pretty good defense. I don’t know that we really hit as well as we would like to, but we did some things at the right time to get those runs.”
After fourth-seeded Medomak Valley (15-4) stranded runners in scoring position in each of the first two innings, Ellsworth hit two singles and took advantage of three wild pitches from Panthers pitcher Isaac McCollett to plate a pair of runs. The top-ranked Eagles would struggle at the plate in the third and fourth, but two more shutout innings from Burnett kept the home team on top 2-0.
Burnett then pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the fifth, and a Nate Smith walk and Riley Grindle single in the bottom half gave top-seeded Ellsworth runners on first and second with no outs. Fielder’s choices from Tyler Mitchell and Devin Grindle gave the Eagles (17-1) their third run of the game, and Jackson Curtis followed by hitting an RBI triple down the third-base line.
“I’ve been a little cold in the last half of the season, so that felt good,” Jackson Curtis said. “I’ve been working hard to get out of the little slump I was having, and it felt great to contribute.”
In the sixth, Ellsworth got back-to-back doubles from Hunter Curtis and Conner Wagstaff to extend the lead to 5-0. Wagstaff stole third base and then came home when Smith hit a sacrifice fly to left, and Burnett retired the side in the seventh for the win.
Burnett, who finished with 13 strikeouts and no walks allowed, didn’t allow a hit the rest of the way after the Panthers’ two singles in the first. His dominance came against a Medomak Valley team that entered the day averaging more than 10 runs per game over the course of an eight-game winning streak.
“I’m speechless,” Burnett said. “We’ve worked our tails off all four years as seniors, and it’s a great feeling. We’re all really excited about how we played.”
At the plate, the Curtis brothers led Ellsworth with two hits each. Scoring two runs apiece in the fifth and sixth innings continued a trend of late-game offensive bursts for the Eagles, who finished the regular season with similar breakthroughs against John Bapst, Old Town and Mount Desert Island before doing so in Wednesday’s regional quarterfinal game against Lawrence.
“I think that’s just the experience coming through for us,” Jackson Curtis said. “We’ve been here before, so we’re calm in these situations. I think that’s the biggest thing and what sets us apart from some of these teams.”
Saturday’s game was the last at Ellsworth High School for Ellsworth seniors Burnett, Devin Grindle, Riley Grindle, Mitchell, Wagstaff and Charlie Hughes. Those seniors went 22-0 on their home field in their final two seasons with the program.
“It’s really upsetting [to think this was our last game here], honestly,” Burnett said. “We grew up here and practiced here for middle school, and for high school, we’ve practiced here all four years. To leave it isn’t easy.”
Knowing another Northern Maine championship game lies ahead of them, though, will make those emotions a bit easier for the Ellsworth seniors to handle. The Eagles will face No. 2 Hermon (17-1) at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 12.
Ellsworth handed Hermon its only loss of the year when it defeated the Hawks 7-1 on May 23 at Hermon High School. With another win Tuesday, the Eagles can clinch their first regional title in 27 years.
“We got a taste of the pie last year, and this year, we’d like to take a bite,” Dan Curtis said. “We’ve been quiet about our team goals, and we’re just going out there and playing baseball. That’s really all it is.”
GSA baseball team, Bucksport, DI-S softball teams fall in semis
Ellsworth will be the only Hancock County team playing for a regional championship after the George Stevens Academy baseball team and Bucksport and Deer Isle-Stonington softball teams fell to season-ending defeats Saturday in the Northern Maine semifinals.
In Blue Hill, the No. 1 GSA baseball team got out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning before fourth-ranked Orono (10-8) used a hit batter, three singles and a passed ball to pull ahead 3-2 in the second. The Eagles tied the game in the bottom of the third on a Ben Parker triple, but the Red Riots responded with two runs in the fourth to retake the lead.
GSA (16-2) cut the Orono lead to 5-4 on a Tanner Ashley single in the fifth and tied the game later in the inning when the Red Riots’ Cam Shorette balked to bring in a run. Yet scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh sent the game to extras, and an RBI double from Orono’s Caleb Ryder proved to be the difference as the visitors upset the Eagles 6-5.
Elsewhere in Hancock County, the No. 1 Bucksport softball team’s season came to an end with a 2-0 loss to No. 4 Dexter (13-5) in the Class C North semifinals. The defeat marked the first time in nine years the Golden Bucks (14-4) failed to appear in a regional championship game.
In Howland, the No. 6 Deer Isle-Stonington softball team’s season ended with a 14-2 loss in Class D North play Saturday morning against second-ranked Penobscot Valley (17-1). The Mariners concluded the season with a 14-5 record.