Any discussion of Class B South baseball has to start with the Western Maine Conference. In the last 10 years, someone has emerged from the league to win the region. The 2006 Oak Hill Raiders, who went on to win the state title, were the last non-WMC to take home the hardware.
Freeport continued the trend in 2016, while simultaneously giving hope to underdogs from all conferences by being the No. 7 seed in the tournament.
The most likely candidates to emerge as a dark horse among central Maine teams may be Spruce Mountain and Leavitt.
The Hornets have several starters back from the team that beat Spruce Mountain in the prelims last year.
“Our biggest strengths will be our experience, especially with our senior leadership,” first-year coach Larry Angello said.
The starting infield is back and features seniors Lucas Perry, Nate Ouellette, Nick Angello and Ian Godfrey and juniors Brian Hewitt and Tim Albert. Hewitt and Albert anchor the pitching staff.
The Phoenix will move to the Mountain Valley Conference next year but plan on making a big splash in their final season in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference with a veteran lineup and pitching depth.
“We’re certainly hoping to improve now that we’ve got big junior and senior classes,” coach Brian Dube said. “We think we’re ready to take the next step. We’ll have to see on the field.”
The pitching rotation of seniors Austin Gilboe and Nate Goodine and junior Jordy Daigle remains intact, as does much of the lineup, topped by all-KVAC outfielder Noah Preble.
After being shut out of the playoffs last year, the MVC could send two representatives this year with Mountain Valley and Oak Hill.
Mountain Valley coach Steve LaPointe wrote as many as five freshmen into his lineup card for many games last season. The Falcons might still be a year away from being a factor in the tournament, but they believe they can improve on last year’s 5-11 record and get those young players their first taste of post-season baseball this year.
“We lost a lot of one- and two-run games last year,” LaPointe said. “I’m really, really encouraged about this team. They have a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy.”
The Falcons could expend a lot of that energy circling the bases if their offense builds on the flashes it showed last year. Senior second baseman Jon Adley hit .450 last year, and sophomore outfielder Jacob Blacnchard hit .350 as a freshman. The pitching staff graduated ace Tim Fitzgerald but should be in good hands with seniors Jacob Beauchesne and Ethan Laubauskas.
Oak Hill slogged through a disappointing 5-11 season in 2016 despite fielding considerable all-conference talent. New coach Chad Stowell doesn’t have to start from scratch with a strong senior class led by Kaleb Morrisette, Matt Clifford, Brent Mulherin, Austin Noble and Adam Mooney.
“We have a good deal of varsity experience and a strong young core that is developing nicely,” Stowell said. “The key will be consistency. The ability is there, but we will have to produce at a constant level to be successful.”
Gray-New Gloucester and Poland are hoping to improve in the powerful WMC and stake claims in the playoffs after finishing at the bottom of the Heal point standings last year.
The Patriots graduated three seniors and think they can make a playoff push with five starters returning. John Henry Villanueva leads the pitching staff and will get plenty of support. The question is whether the pitching staff can count on the support of the offense, which struggled to manufacture runs last year.
“I’m hoping the varsity experience can make a difference,” coach Brad Smith said. “We were a player away or two players away from delivering the key hit or coming in and getting us out of an inning last year.”
Poland baseball returned to its roots by hiring Charlie Pray as its coach in hopes of returning to the success it enjoyed while Pray was a player there under current Edward Little coach Dave Jordan.
“We have a very good mix,” he said. “We’re not too senior heavy and not too young. We’ll play the game hard, play the game with a lot of aggressiveness, run the bases well and execute the fundamentals.”
In senior pitcher Ben Bernier and senior catcher Jake Wiseman, the Knights have a battery that stacks up with the best in the conference.