One of the larger question marks for the 2017 Bangor High School baseball team as it began its pursuit of a fourth consecutive Class A state championship on Friday was its middle-infield defense.
Senior George Payne is a returning starter and veteran presence at second base, but the Rams faced replacing graduated shortstop Kyle Stevenson, a rare four-year starter for Bangor.
Early indications are that coach Dave Morris has found an able replacement for Stevenson in junior Zach Ireland.
Ireland had six assists and one putout during an errorless performance in his first varsity start at shortstop during Bangor’s season-opening 7-5 victory over Lewiston at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor. He also had an RBI offensively with a third-inning sacrifice fly.
“Zach’s got some big shoes to fill,” said Morris. “The thing with him is that he made the routine plays and then he made a couple of big plays in some big situations for us.
“He’s a steady player and he’s been working hard, and then you make some of those big plays and you feel like a million bucks.”
One of the biggest defensive plays made by Ireland did not result in an assist or putout but prevented the tying run from scoring midway through the contest.
Lewiston already had scored twice in the top of the fourth to draw within 3-2 and had a runner on second base with two outs when the Blue Devils’ Owen Cox grounded sharply up the middle.
Ireland dove behind second base to stop the ball from going into the outfield, and while his throw to first didn’t get the batter, the diving stop prevented the other runner from scoring from second and senior righthander Gary Farnham then struck out the next batter to end the inning without that equalizing run from coming across the plate..
“When our backs were against the wall it seemed like we played up to another level,” said Morris, “which I’m pleased with because in those kind of situations you might give up two or three runs but Gary kept up the tempo as a pitcher and then our defense did a great job.”