First game of state double-elimination tourney Saturday in Ellsworth
After the first inning of last Tuesday’s game against Old Town, it appeared the Houlton 9-10 All-stars were in jeopardy of losing their undefeated status and possibly playing a second game to decide who would be District 3 champions in the double elimination tournament.
But, in the fifth inning, capitalizing on walks, defensive mistakes and throwing in timely hitting, the game changed.
“It was an exciting contest,” said coach Shawn Graham, who is also the Houlton varsity baseball coach.
The Houlton All-stars pulled out an 8-6 win to capture the District 3 Little League championship, while retaining their undefeated record, sending them into the state double elimination tournament to be held Saturday, Aug. 1 at 2 p.m. in Ellsworth at the Demeyer Field.
The state tournament will consist of six district winners from throughout Maine. The Houlton All-stars’ first opponent is York, who is the District 4 champion.
This may very well be the first ever District 3 championship brought back to Houlton. However, the Houlton 11-12 year old All-star squad advanced to the states about six years ago under the Cal Ripken League banner. According to Graham, it was a four-team district tournament with Houlton, Woodland, Eastport and Calais.
In last week’s championship game, Old Town exposed Houlton’s first-inning jitters staking a 6-0 lead, but in the top of the fourth, Houlton started their come back as Cameron Graham led off with a single then Nick Cowperthwaite drew a walk. Billy Phillips and Caleb Tribou delivered a single and double, respectively to bring in three runs to make the score 6-3. Houlton loaded the bases in the fifth, but came up empty stranding the runners.
After the first inning, Graham settled down to hold Old Town scoreless before being removed with two outs in the fourth. Isia Bouchard came on and got a huge strikeout with a man on second to get Houlton out of a jam. Nick Cowperthwaite then came in and struck out two of the three batters he faced in both the fifth and sixth innings to clinch the win and championship.
In the top of the sixth, Houlton’s Matt Tuttle stroked a one out bases-loaded double to bring in three runs to tie the game, 6-all. Graham then laid down a bunt along the third base line for an infield hit. Phillips found the gap in left center for a double scoring the team’s last two runs.
Phillips led Houlton’s offense with a double and single to drive in two runs, while Tuttle and Tribou each doubled and had two RBIs. Graham singled twice and Connor Grant added a single.
“This group of kids have exceeded my expectations all summer,” Graham said. “We’ve got 13 boys on the team and every one of them played a key role for us throughout the District tournament.”
Graham said the squad is well-rounded with each player possessing his own strength from base running to pitching a stint or filling in defensively or executing offensively (bunt or hit) when called upon.
“Offensively, the lineup is solid,” said Graham. “The first nine batters are averaging about 10 runs per game. We’ve gotten as much production from our bottom half of the lineup as we have at the top.
“We’ve also got some pitching depth, as we are able to use about six different pitchers in the right situations. Defensively, we have made a few mistakes from time to time, but the kids have come up with the big play when needed and they have been able to compensate for an error with a big strikeout or a two-out hit at the right time.”
Entering the state tournament, Graham knows the team will be facing stiff competition.
“Regardless of the outcome, the kids have done a great job,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun for the players, parents and all of the coaches.”