When the Maine Principals’ Association adopted new pitch count rules for the 2017 season, baseball coaches across the state knew they would need to develop deeper pitching staffs.
Coaches at the larger schools will have the luxury of turning to seniors and juniors to fill out their pitching staffs. Those pitchers may not have toed the rubber since middle school or freshman baseball, but many of them will at least have some varsity baseball experience.
Class D coaches are rarely so blessed. Chances are a deep dive into their staff requires handing the ball to someone who is still getting his feet wet in varsity.
“If I’m forced to go to my number four, five or six pitchers, I’m forced to go to freshmen and sophomores,” said Rangeley coach Jeff Larochelle, who has one of the most experienced team in Class D South. “You’re going to have some games that come down to how these kids who are just out of middle school perform under pressure.”
Three years ago, Rangeley didn’t have any pitchers, or anything else, as the program was dormant due to lack of numbers. Last season, one year after reviving the sport, the Lakers won nine games and reached the regional semifinals, losing to eventual state champion Searsport. Larochelle is optimistic his team will continue to climb the ladder in the East-West Conference and Class D South.
“Nine of the 12 players I have played last year,” Larochelle said. “I’m hoping that experience starts to show up.”
The first area he hopes to see it is on defense.
“Last year, what got us was we’d have an inning where our pitchers would have to get five or six outs,” Larochelle said. “We’ve got to be on it defensively. We’ve got to limit our errors.”
Nothing inflates pitch counts faster, of course, than errors. Veteran pitchers such as senior Ricky Thompson, junior Kyle Larochelle and junior Bo Beaulieu are capable of getting the Lakers deep in games if they have the defensive support.
Larochelle thinks the Lakers should have the offensive balance to force opposing defenses to make plays, too, whether it’s putting the ball in play or running the bases.
Aggressive baserunning has been Buckfield’s trademark through the years, and that will continue under new coach Larry Thornton.
“We’ve got good team speed,” he said. “There isn’t one guy on that roster that I can say is slow. And that goes for the guys coming off the bench, too. We’ll take the extra base.”
The Bucks have plenty of pop to complement that speed with senior Jake Kraske and juniors Ethan Jackson and Zack Grover.
Unlike Rangeley, Buckfield has more than one wave of pitchers old enough to get their drivers’ license. Kraske anchors the staff, which also includes Jackson and Grover and juniors Simon Burch, Tyler Sullivan and Matt Beaucage.
Buckfield starts the season with six road games, including stops at Class C schools such as Traip Academy, Old Orchard Beach and St. Dom’s. The Bucks may not see the field before then due to the lack of a playable diamond, but Thornton thinks his team has done all it can to prepare for the challenging “road trip.”
“It’s been tough with the weather and limited practice time,” he said. “These guys have done very well to make the most of the two hours we have in the gym each day. I’ve been impressed with their work ethic.”