Maine team shows resilience, grit in Senior League World Series

The Maine District 3 Champions from  Bronco-Hermon Little League demonstrated tremendous resolve in Tuesday's Senior League World Series victory over U.S. West of Hawaii. The Maine squad faces Melbourne, Australia, on Thursday night for the chance to play for the world championship on Saturday.

The Maine District 3 Champions from Bronco-Hermon Little League demonstrated tremendous resolve in Tuesday’s Senior League World Series victory over U.S. West of Hawaii. The Maine squad faces Melbourne, Australia, on Thursday night for the chance to play for the world championship on Saturday.

BANGOR, Maine — Unforgettable.

That’s the only way to explain Tuesday night’s Senior League World Series game between Maine District 3 champion Bronco-Hermon and U.S. West representative Wailuki, Hawaii.

It was an electric atmosphere under the lights at Mansfield Stadium, which again was overflowing with baseball fans with the local boys in action.

It is a scene that has been witnessed previously during the last 15 summers, but it’s one that never grows old for those who appreciate the excitement of youth sports.

There were some nervous players on the field on Tuesday and who could blame them? The stands were jammed with enthusiastic parents, family members, friends and baseball aficionados, who cheered every big pitch, hard-hit ball and slick defensive play.

It’s hard to imagine the kind of pressure the young men faced as most of them had never been exposed to that kind of scenario. Among the five errors committed by the two teams, all of them appeared to have been caused at least in part by the magnitude of the moment.

There was a dropped popup, a routine toss that wasn’t caught, and two throws on which the fielder clearly was too anxious to get the ball back into the infield in the hope of preventing a run by the opponent.

What’s it like to be in that kind of a position, given the nerves and even fear that can come with it?

“I always want the ball hit to me,” said Bronco-Hermon’s Alex McKenney. “You want to be the person that makes the play and makes the crowd go wild.”

Mistakes still happen, despite the best of intentions. It’s the nature of the game.

Yet what stood out most from Tuesday’s game was the way the players bounced back after committing errors that had proved costly to their teams.

U.S. West champion shortstop Jyra Lalim failed to handle a pop fly that led to a run for the District 3 ballclub. He responded with some sensational defensive plays, including a backhanded stop and throw for the final out of the same inning when the error had occurred.

Lalim also flawlessly handled his next five chances, including making the relay on a 4-6-3 double play to end the sixth inning.

None handled the tense situation with more poise and grit than Bronco-Hermon’s Alex Applebee.

He had singled and hustled around to score from first base on a single and throwing error in the fifth inning to provide his team with the go-ahead run.

After helping turn a 6-4-3 double play in the fifth, he experienced a gut-check moment in the top of the seventh. With two out and one on, he was unable to cleanly field Kepa Supnet’s hard ground ball and his throw pulled McKenney off the bag at first base.

Had he made the play, Applebee might have been able to start a double play that ended the game.

His resolve was tested only moments later, when pitcher Casey Sudbeck was lifted after exceeding the 95-pitch count and walking a batter to load the bases.

With the potential tying run at third base, and the go-ahead run at second, Applebee took the ball from Bronco-Hermon manager Matt Kinney.

He fell behind in the count 2-1 against Anthony Tuionetoa, but on the next pitch got him to ground out to shortstop, where Zach Nash fielded it, stepped on second and threw to first to punch the Maine team’s ticket to Thursday’s semifinals.

Kinney, whose impressive baseball resume included pitching in the major leagues, told a local broadcaster during their postgame interview on the field not to be surprised if he vomited.

“It was another one of those games. I think I’m aging every day — a lot,” Kinney said a few minutes later.

He and those in attendance nonetheless came away from the thrilling game marveling at how exciting the game had been and the resolve demonstrated by the players.

“I think the kids battled hard all day,” Kinney said.

“These guys have stayed positive. They work hard and they work well together. I really don’t have the words to describe what’s happened these first two (SLWS) games.”

At 8 p.m. Thursday, Bronco-Hermon will be tested again and have a chance to make more memories in a semifinal against Asia-Pacific champ Melbourne, Australia. The winner plays in the title game on Saturday.

I’d suggest you arrive early — but only if you want a seat.

Pete Warner

About Pete Warner

Pete is a Bangor native who graduated from Bangor High School, Class of 1980. He earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He has been a full-time member of the Bangor Daily News Sports staff since 1984. Pete lives in Bangor with his wife of 32 years, Annia. They have two adult sons, Will and Paul. Pete is fluent in Spanish and enjoys visiting his in-laws and friends in Costa Rica. His hobbies including hunting, fishing and listening to jazz.