BLUE HILL — From the moment it left his bat, Ben Parker’s hit to left-center field left little doubt.
With two outs in the sixth inning of Thursday’s Class C North quarterfinal matchup, Parker, a George Stevens Academy junior, stepped up to the plate. In the midst of a scoreless pitchers’ duel between the Eagles’ Stefan Simmons and Bucksport’s Isaac Moore, a base hit to just about anywhere in the outfield would put GSA on the verge of victory.
As Moore delivered on a 2-1 count with runners on first and second, Parker let it rip. The ball sailed off his bat all the way to the left-center field fence to score Ethan Vinall and Tyler McKenney, and by the time it made its way back to the infield, Parker was standing on second base clapping his hands as his teammates celebrated in the dugout.
“I knew it was going to be a big hit as soon as I hit the ball,” Parker said after the game. “Sometimes it’s as simple as just going out there and finding a pitch to hit. That’s all I did.”
Indeed, baseball can be that simple at times, and on a day when there seemed to be little to no separation between two ace pitchers, finding that pitch to hit made all the difference.
Parker’s two-out double in the sixth inning proved to be the deciding play as fourth-ranked GSA edged No. 5 Bucksport 2-0 in the Class C North quarterfinals Thursday. The win stretched the Eagles’ winning streak to five games and put the team within one win of its fourth regional title game appearance in five years.
Bucksport started off the game with two base hits in the first inning but was unable to plate any runs. That was the closest either team would get to scoring in the first three frames as both pitchers dominated opposing batters in front of a packed house in Blue Hill.
GSA had a chance to take the lead in the fourth inning with the bases loaded and one out, but Moore recorded a strikeout and a groundout to escape the jam unharmed. When the Golden Bucks loaded the bases themselves in the top of the sixth, Simmons made one of the game’s biggest plays when he snagged a line drive out of the air for the final out of the inning.
“I knew the ball was coming straight at me as soon as it was hit, and I just had to take a stab at it and make the play,” Simmons said. “It’s just a reflex you have when you’ve been playing baseball for a long time.”
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Parker took his chance. With the ball sailing almost all the way to the fence, the Eagles were able to plate not one but two runs before Simmons retired the side in the seventh to secure the victory.
Simmons finished the game with seven strikeouts for GSA and added a double at the plate. Parker had a team-high two hits for the Eagles (12-5), and Marshal Lebel had the other.
Sophomore Christian Chase-Hurd finished with a pair of singles for Bucksport (9-8), which had four hits as a team. Moore had six strikeouts in as many innings of work for the Golden Bucks.
GSA’s next game will be on the road against No. 1 Houlton (12-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 9. Although the game will be a rematch of the 2016 Class C North championship game, which the Eagles won 3-1, GSA will have to win in The County if it wants to return to the regional title decider this time around.
“We’re not excited for the long ride [to Houlton], but I think we have to feel good about how we’re playing,” Parker said. “I hear they have a nice ballpark, and we’ll be ready to go out there and play.”
EHS baseball, Bucksport softball advance
The Ellsworth baseball and Bucksport softball teams took advantage of having the No. 1 seeds in their respective Northern Maine fields Thursday to advance to the regional semifinals.
Ellsworth (16-1) won its 14th consecutive game with an 8-0 win over No. 8 Nokomis. Conner Wagstaff struck out a whopping 15 batters for the Eagles, who had 12 hits at the plate to breeze to a berth in the Class B North semifinals.
The Eagles will be at home against No. 4 Oceanside (15-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday. A win would send the Eagles to the Class B North title game for the first time in more than a decade.
In Bucksport, Kate Saunders had five strikeouts on the mound and two hits at the plate to lead the Golden Bucks to a 7-3 win over No. 8 Dexter (9-9). MaKenzie Smith blasted a home run over the center-field fence for the home team in the win.
Bucksport will host No. 5 Orono (10-7) in the Class C North semifinals Saturday. The Golden Bucks beat Orono 13-1 and 17-3 in the regular season.
Elsewhere on Thursday, the Mount Desert Island and Deer Isle-Stonington baseball teams and Ellsworth softball team saw their seasons end in defeats after posting solid wins one day earlier.
In Bar Harbor, third-seeded MDI fell to a 4-1 defeat against No. 6 Gardiner (14-4). Senior Alden Fournier pitched a complete game for the Trojans (12-6) in the loss.
At Husson University, No. 10 Deer Isle-Stonington was unable to produce its second upset in as many days and fell 6-0 to second-ranked Bangor Christian (13-4). The Mariners (5-13) had previously defeated No. 7 Greater Houlton Christian on Wednesday.
No. 13 Ellsworth put forth a valiant effort on the softball diamond but found itself on the losing side of a heartbreaker as No. 5 Foxcroft (15-3) came away with a 2-1 win. Senior Katelynn Bagley had a single and a stolen base for the Eagles (7-11) in the road defeat.