BREWER — Dethroning a powerhouse is never an easy task at any level of sports, but neither is consistently staying atop a field that includes numerous challengers. When Downeast Maine’s top softball teams met Tuesday for the Class C North title, one of those two things had to give.
Narraguagus edged No. 1 Bucksport 4-2 in the Northern Maine title game Tuesday at Brewer’s Coffin Field. The result brought to an end the Golden Bucks’ three-year reign as Northern Maine champions and sent the Knights to the state title game for only the second time in program history.
The No. 2 Knights (18-1) started off with back-to-back triples and a single to take a 2-0 lead in the first inning. A pitchers’ duel then ensued as senior Kate Saunders of Bucksport and junior Lanie Perry of Narraguagus exchanged a number of strikeouts in the second and third.
In the fourth inning, Bucksport (17-2) would tie the game when Alexis Wardwell hit a two-run single to center field to score Maggie Bires and Saunders. The game then went into extras as the two pitchers began dealing once again, and excellent defensive plays from both teams — Bucksport senior Darian Jellison made crucial diving catches in the fifth and eighth innings — kept the score knotted at 2.
“Our six seniors made some great plays and gave it everything they had,” Bucksport head coach Mike Carrier said. “The leadership and effort they gave all four years here are going to be tough to replace, but we’re Bucksport, and we’ll reload.”
With runners at second and third and no outs in the ninth inning, Madison Leighton delivered for Narraguagus. The senior had been hitless against Saunders entering the at-bat, but this time was different as she singled to score both runners. Perry then retired the Golden Bucks in order in the bottom of the inning, and the Knights advanced to their first state championship game since 2002.
“We just had to settle ourselves down and remind ourselves that this was the regional championship,” Leighton said. “The pressure got to us there for a little bit, but we were able to get back in the game and take advantage in the right situations.”
Saunders had 11 strikeouts, one walk and nine hits allowed in what was her final game for Bucksport. Perry had eight strikeouts, one walk and seven hits allowed for Narraguagus and also caught three line drives hit right her way in the circle.
The game also had a controversial moment late when Jellison was called out at second base on an attempted steal. It was a close play that killed a momentous seventh inning for Bucksport, and the team’s head coach of nearly three decades was far from happy with the umpire’s call.
“I saw it, and I know what I saw,” Carrier said. “Put it in the paper, put my name beside it — I don’t care. They screwed us.”
For Narraguagus, the win was another defining moment in what has been an incredible run for the school’s girls’ sports teams in recent years. A few of the players who helped the school to a state title in girls’ basketball in 2016 were on the diamond as the school went on to add another piece of hardware to its trophy case on this June evening.
“The people at Narraguagus are all really hard-working and passionate, and we’re really close as a community,” Leighton said. “I think those relationships carry over into things like sports, and that allows us to have success and get some great moments like this.”
Narraguagus will play Madison (19-0) in the state championship game at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at St. Joseph’s College in Standish. Madison, the No. 1 seed in Class C South, beat second-seeded Sacopee Valley (16-3) 15-7 on Tuesday to win the regional title for the fifth time in six seasons.
“We’re probably going to be yelling the whole way home on our way back to the high school, but then it’s back to business,” Leighton said. “We still have another game we want to win.”