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Dirigo tops Stearns for third title in four years
Seen here is some of the action from Dirigo's 8-2 state championship victory over Stearns last Saturday in Bangor, the Cougars' third title in the last four years. (Photos courtesy of Art Chamberlin)
BANGOR -- The Dirigo Cougars made it back-to-back Class C baseball championships and three out of four Saturday afternoon, slamming Stearns, 8-2, at Mansfield Stadium.
Dirigo did it in typical, gritty fashion, rallying from an early deficit in what became its 2013 playoff custom.
Spinning the complete game shutout was Chad Snowman, the senior without working left knee ligaments. Punctuating it with a straight steal of home was Hunter Ross, the gnat who buzzed in each opponent's ear and the tick who burrowed underneath its skin in every sports season.
"It's just crazy," Ross said. "We're fortunate we have great programs from young to old. We're consistently coached well and ready to go every year and motivated."
Dirigo (18-2) took the lead for good in the top of the fourth inning on an RBI single by senior first baseman T.J. Frost, who combined with his sophomore brother, Tyler, for five hits.
The Cougars scored another run to make it 4-2 in the fifth, then added three to chase Stearns starter and Mr. Baseball finalist Jordan Morrow in the sixth.
"That's how we have been all year," said center fielder Spencer Trenoweth, whose two-out, two-run double put Dirigo on the board in the third. "We start off slow. The second time through the order we start to pick it up. That's been the story of the season. It takes them getting on top for us to really turn it on. We're pretty used to the situation."
So is Snowman, who was the winning hurler in three of Dirigo's four playoff games.
Stearns (17-3) had only two hits after the third inning. Both runs were unearned, aided by a dropped third strike in the second and a booted grounder in the third. Snowman struck out five.
Not bad for a guy who tore his ACL during basketball season and as recently as April 17 was resigned to missing his senior baseball campaign. Snowman pitched and batted third throughout the Cougars' postseason push with a brace beneath his uniform pants providing stability.
"Senior year obviously is the best," Snowman said. "This is a great group of guys. It's just special."
Every starter got on base at least once for Dirigo, which banged out a total of 11 hits against Morrow and relievers Nick Dumas and Zach Bouchard.
The margin could have been even more lopsided -- the Cougars left the bases loaded in both the first and sixth innings and stranded a dozen overall.
"A big part of our strategy has been running two of our top pitchers the whole game, and we sacrificed one of them (Kyle McVey) last game to get the Eastern Maine championship," Stearns coach Ryan Carrier said. "That played a small part, but I'll tell you what, they came to play ball. They came to play ball and we came to play ball, and they came out on top. They outplayed us. Overall, great ballgame. Overall, great season."
Sophomore designated hitter Dylan Martin had two hits for Stearns, including an RBI single to give the Minutemen a 1-0 lead in the second.
Snowman's walk and a double by Kaine Hutchins set up Trenoweth's go-ahead rip down the left field line in the third. Trenoweth previously struck out looking at a curve to end the promising Dirigo first.
"Second time through I was just thinking about redemption, really," Trenoweth said. "It was a terrible feeling striking out to end the inning. I went up there and found my pitch."
Dirigo's lone error extended Stearns' half of the third and led to Tanner Currier's RBI single. T.J. Frost relayed Robbie Babb's throw from right field and fired to Tyler Frost at the plate to cut down Dumas and keep the score tied.
Babb stole second after an infield single and raced home on T.J. Frost's hit to center to put Dirigo back on top.
"We've come back in a lot of games this year," Dirigo coach Ryan Palmer said. "These kids work so damn hard. People don't understand day in, day out how hard they work. I try to give them a day off and they get mad at me."
Brett Whittemore delivered the RBI in the fifth.
Next inning, Morrow walked T.J. Frost to go over 100 pitches, then mishandled Ross' sacrifice attempt to open the floodgates. He departed after another walk to Snowman.
"We saw him warming up and we said, 'Sit back on the curve ball. He's not going to blow the fastball by us,'" Palmer said. "Toward the end we saw his high pitch count and said let's be patient and make him throw strikes, and we chased him."
Tyler Frost's RBI single and a popout preceded Ross' swipe of home with Trenoweth at the plate.
Palmer and third base coach Dave Berry weighed the costs and benefits of taking the risk for weeks, with speedster Ross as the hypothetical culprit.
"It was fun. I think that got us pumped," Ross said. "That was the exact scenario. We had talked about it all year but never done it."
Snowman later scored on a wild pitch for a 7-2 cushion.
"I'd say that's the most aggressive team I've seen," Carrier said. "Stealing from third on a pitch? Very aggressive.
T.J. Frost tripled and Ross doubled to greet Bouchard in the seventh and punctuate the rout.
The economical Snowman needed only 74 pitches to go the route.
Morrow drew the lone walk in the third. Snowman retired nine of the last 10 Minutemen.
"He was on a 200-pitch count today, so hopefully he was finishing it out," Palmer quipped. "To think that this kid almost did not play baseball in April because of his ACL. We're not here right now if not for Chad Snowman."