The fourth time was the charm for Bangor baseball under Todd Grant in the sectional final.
The Cardinals' 9-3 win over Pecatonica in this year's Division 4 sectional finals was a welcome relief for a program that couldn't quite seem to clear that final hurdle to reach state. In fact, it has been an issue that's plagued the Scenic Bluffs Conference in general for the past quarter century.
The 1990s were a boom period for Scenic Bluffs baseball that saw the conference send five total teams to the Division 3 state tournament throughout the decade.
Necedah was a state semifinalist in 1991, Bangor was the state runner-up in 1994 and a semifinalist in 1995 before finally winning it all in 1996, and Royall capped it off with a state title in 1998.
But since the turn of the century, the sectional final round has bedeviled the conference.
Coming into this season, Scenic Bluffs teams had lost 10 straight sectional final appearances. That included two sectional final losses for both Royall (2006, 2009) and Brookwood (2010, 2015) and one each for Cashton (2011) and Hillsboro (2016).
No Scenic Bluffs team had suffered more sectional final heartbreak, however, than Bangor and their four losses in that round.
First was a 14-7 loss in 2006 to Waterloo, where the Cardinals seized a 7-0 lead before allowing 14 unanswered runs. That was followed by a 4-2 loss to Ithaca in 2014, a 14-1 loss in five innings to Belmont in 2019 and a 4-2 loss to Southwestern in 2021.
The last three of those have come under Todd Grant, who has served as Bangor's head baseball coach since 2008. The baseball program has enjoyed plenty of success over that time, but the lack of a state tournament appearance stood out during this golden age of Bangor athletics.
The football team won Division 7 state titles in 2015 and 2017. The boys' basketball team won a Division 5 state title in 2018, made the state semifinals in 2019 and finished as state runner-up this past winter. The girls' basketball team got to the Division 5 state semifinals in 2017, won a state title in 2018, qualified for state but never got to play due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and made it to the Division 4 state semifinals in 2021.
All told, Bangor has qualified for state in a team sport in seven consecutive academic years.
Now, the baseball program gets to add their name to the list.
"We've seen it in football, we've seen them do it in basketball and it's like 'come on, can we get there one time for baseball?'" Grant said. "I'm going to be honest, it's pretty sweet."
For the athletes who have spent their entire adolescence knowing nothing but high-level success for Bangor, it's special to add their own chapter to this ongoing story.
"Just continuing the legacy," said senior Ashton Michek. "The Bangor legacy of having great athletics and just doing our best to go as far as we can each season."
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