Monmouth Academy coach Eric Palleschi offered a direct challenge to his players before the season.
“I’m going to make out the lineup according to who’s hitting,” Palleschi told them.
The Mustangs really took their coach’s words to heart.
Monmouth’s offense has reached double figures in each of its first four games, averaging just under 13 runs per game, and is off to a 4-0 start, its best in six years.
“We’ve gotten some timely hits,” he said. “The kids have responded really well. We didn’t know what we’d get for a transition from the middle school. But we’re hitting the ball pretty well right now.”
Palleschi is getting production throughout the lineup, which includes two freshmen, Kyle Fletcher and Brandon Goff at the top and another, D.J. McHugh, in the heart of it. Monmouth graduated just one senior but was still looking for contributions from a talented freshman class that won the Babe Ruth state championship last summer.
Not only have the newcomers contributed, but they’ve helped Palleschi get the best out of his more experienced players.
“This group of freshmen has really pushed the upperclassmen,” Palleschi said. “The kids that we had last year, they really worked their tails off, but we really weren’t that talented. Their work ethic and the tools that they developed last year and the first part of this year, they’ve come together.”
While his pitching has been uneven so far, giving up 12 runs against Hall-Dale and 10 against Georges Valley while holding Jay and Lisbon to two and one, respectively, Palleschi is happy with his pitching depth. Four different pitchers have picked up wins so far — Fletcher, Roger Bachelder, Blake Burnham and Jeremy Ashlock, with a fifth, Josh Fournier, trying to make it five-for-five against Boothbay on Friday.
The Boothbay game kicked off a tough six games in seven days stretch for the Mustangs. The real test starts Saturday with the opener of a home-and-home set against St. Dom’s. After facing the Saints in Auburn on Saturday and Monmouth on Monday, they’ll take on Winthrop, Wiscasset and Hall-Dale.
“This is where we’ll see where we’re at,” Palleschi said. “We’ll really get a good gauge of where we are and what we’ve got.”
Eddies pitching in
The common thread among the top teams in the KVAC so far this season has been good pitching. Edward Little won four of its first six games thanks to some solid work on the mound by Luc Farrago, J.J. Jackson, Sean Ford, Nate Blais, Gage Clavett and company.
“They’ve all stepped up and have been working hard,” EL coach Scott Annear said. “We’ve talked a ton about throwing strikes, throwing first-pitch strikes, and get the leadoff guy out each inning. They’ve really bought in and truly have seen the results of that. If we keep leadoff guys off base and we throw strikes, good things can happen. It’s not about throwing it by somebody.”
Going into Friday’s game against Skowhegan, the Eddies had allowed 28 runs in six games (4.7 runs per game). Take out an 11-4 loss to Oxford Hills early in the season and that number drops to 3.4 runs per game.
Though the Eddies graduated ace Mat Gordon, Annear went into the season confident he had enough good arms on his pitching staff. It was just a question of how they would react to adversity. So far, they’ve handled it very well.
“I felt like kids could throw. It was about being able to handle the situations,” he said. “There are times in the game where you really need to challenge and say ‘I need my best stuff or I can trust my stuff’ and be able to work through that.”
The Eddies get a bye next Monday, which will help Annear get his pitching rotation in order for big back-to-back road games against Brewer and Cony. EL beat Cony, 7-3, in the season opener.
Cougars coming around
Mt. Blue scored a season-high nine runs in Friday’s 9-3 win over Mt. Ararat to improve to 4-3 on the season.The outburst may be just what the doctor ordered for the Cougars, who were averaging a little under four runs per game heading into Friday.
Confidence is a big factor for what is still a relatively inexperienced team.
“I think guys are still getting used to the system,” said second-year coach Dan Stefanilo. “We have two freshmen in the lineup and a lot of new guys and I think they’re getting used to the system. I see them coming around.”
Senior Jimmy Neal, who sparked the Cougars with a two-run homer in the second inning against Mt. Ararat, believes it’s a matter of being more aggressive at the plate.
“We’ve been watching a lot of first-pitch strikes and that puts us in a little bit of a deficit,” he said. “It’s hard to come back when you’re down in the count. We’re trying to get better with that.”
Until they get more consistent production, the key for the Cougars to get in the playoff hunt will be avoiding handing the other team runs, Stefanilo said.
“I’ve learned that it’s often the race to five or six (runs),” he said. “If you can play defense, five or six should do it. On days we don’t play defense, it’s how many can we score? Can we compete?”