ROCKLAND — Thirty years ago this summer, the Rockland District High School baseball team won the 1989 Class B state championship for the program’s only state championship in the sport.
The Rockland team was filled with talented, multi-sport athletes, which greatly assisted in the team’s journey to winning the coveted championship trophy.
“That previous summer, several members of the team played for the newly formed American Legion team in Waldoboro and played over 20 games [versus] the best kids in the state and competed at a high level, gaining confidence and developing our skills in warm temperatures,” Nelsen said, while also noting the team full of great friends had a chemistry that was unmatched.
Members of the team included Jason Willis, Joe Nelsen, Rich Mazurek, Jason Wilcox, Mike Wright, Dwayne Knowlton, Chris Marcoux, Jesse Smith, William Stinson, Stephen Calderwood, Chris Raye, Andy Seidner, Lincoln McRae, Sean Kalloch, Paul Will, Larry Reed, Jeffrey Woodman, Shane LeBlanc and Ryan Post. The team’s head coach was Bob Morrill, who was assisted by Larry Terrio and Alan Wilcox.
In the playoffs, the fourth-seeded Tigers knocked off fifth-seeded Houlton 3-2 in the Eastern B quarterfinals, top-seeded Dexter 6-4 in the Eastern B semifinals, second-seeded Ellsworth 12-9 in the Eastern B finals and second-seeded Gorham 3-1 in the state championship game.
The Tigers concluded its season with a 15-4 record.
Though the team did collect a state championship victory, the team entered the playoffs an underdog.
“We never really thought about winning a State Championship in baseball,” Mazurek recalled. “I remember just trying to make the playoffs. After that we just got real hot as a team and rode the great pitching of Joe Nelsen. I think just playing loose as an underdog throughout the playoffs is what propelled us to win.”
Tremendous Test: Regional Championship
Prior to winning the Eastern Class B championship over Ellsworth, two-time defending champions, the last crown Rockland won was a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship in 1963, according to the Bangor Daily News.
The Tigers secured a berth in the 1989 state title game with a 12-9 upset victory over Ellsworth on the road in Ellsworth on June 14, 1989.
Following the victory, Morrill told the Bangor Daily News the game was “a heckuva win for us” and that the Tigers were stacked with talented players.
A June 15, 1989, Bangor Daily News article noted the Tigers accumulated a 12-3 advantage after five-and-a-half innings of play behind the Rockland hitters and Willis, the starting pitcher.
In the bottom of the sixth frame, Ellsworth pushed six runs across the plate to make it a three-run game with just over an inning remaining.
“We got out to a big lead and Ellsworth started getting back to the game,” Nelsen recalled. “I moved from [first] base to catcher. A few walks and hits later I looked to coach Morrill and motioned to him I was ready to pitch. People may think this is [conceited] but I entered game to pitch and that’s when I felt we were on our way.”
With Nelsen, who was slated to have the day off from pitching duties, now on the mound, the Tigers were able to fend off the Ellsworth rally and collect the major road victory.
The Ellsworth game, McRae said, provided the team the confidence to play in the state title game with nothing to lose.
“For us every time the last out was made in our playoff run is the only time we thought about moving on,” Mazurek said. “It was an incredible feeling to win that game against Ellsworth especially because it was on their home field. I just remember that we had fun playing as a group. We just played hard every inning.”
On June 17, 1989, the Tigers secured the program’s lone state baseball championship with a 3-1 win over Gorham, the Western B champions, at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.
“Oddly, in some small way I think [we] sort of felt like heroes,” McRae, who recalled making what he described as a clutch catch in foul territory in right field, said of bringing the trophy to Rockland.
From the state championship game, Nelsen can vividly recollect many moments from the game, starting with his pre-game thoughts of how he would be able to match the pitching performance by a pitcher in the Class D state title game that featured a no-hitter just before the Class B game.
Nelsen recalled being in the zone throughout the contest, unable to hear any noise the crowd was likely making and instead being laser-focused on the mound.
Of course, Nelsen remembered a fly ball blasted by Mazurek over the trees behind the left field foul pole that was ruled foul, though that call is still challenged to this day by many devout Rockland fans who believe it was a home run.
“I still say it was a homer,” Nelsen commented.
The fly ball to centerfield caught by Wilcox to end the game is an image still vivid in Nelsen’s mind, as is the hug Nelsen shared with Raye, his catcher and best friend, before the celebratory dog pile of players.
Following the celebrations, Nelsen recalled his father taking up the tradition of paints words or phrases on the team’s bus before it hit the road back to Rockland. The team would make the drive back to Rockland with phrases “state champs,” “#1”, and “Eat your heart out Rabbi” on the bus, the latter referring to rival Camden High School head coach Peter Henderson.
Mazurek, meanwhile, remembers the game seemingly flying by, his towering shot that may or may not have been foul (depending on who you ask), Nelsen in his usual pitching groove, and perhaps most importantly, the look on Morrill’s face following the final out.
“He didn’t show much emotion usually but after we won that game I will never forget the look of joy and relief,” Mazurek recalled. “He had won a State Championship. As for the rest of the team we were very proud of winning a title for Rockland. We just felt lots of pride that we could bring a title home.”
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