Lewiston High School graduate Mike Wong, an infielder at Husson University, throws the ball against Norwich.Former Dirigo High School standout Ben Holmes is in his senior season as a pitcher at Husson University.
Ben Holmes and Mike Wong took different paths to the Husson University baseball team, but the local products from Central Maine have both been key pieces on a squad looking to set out on a path to postseason success.
Holmes, a senior pitcher from Dixfield, and Wong, a sophomore infielder from Lewiston, have helped place Husson near the top of the North Atlantic Conference baseball standings.
Holmes’ college career has been anything but consistent or normal. After taking a break from baseball his freshman year to focus on school — working on a degree in physical therapy — the former Dirigo Cougar then found himself in the Eagles’ bullpen after returning to the diamond as a first-year sophomore.
“I struggled at first, honestly,” Holmes said. “I kind of knew that coming in that I wouldn’t obviously step on the field as a freshman and throw lights-out (in) a starting role. But I really kind of had to learn how to get myself going as a reliever, kind of have that mindset that I could throw any day.”
Holmes said he always liked being a starter, so making the transition to the bullpen was just that — a transition. He grew into the gig, and even became the team’s closer a year ago. But this year, in his senior season, he returned to a starting role.
“One of the things I think we try to do every year is develop some versatility within our pitchers,” Husson coach Jason Harvey said. “And sometimes your role changes year to year, depending on our needs, and where guys fit into what we call ‘the piece of the puzzle’ for us.
“We looked at Ben last year, as we had some depth in the starting position, and felt Ben would be a good closer, and was a good closer for us. This year we needed a little bit of help in the front end on the starting (rotation), and Ben has transitioned to that very well.”
Holmes has been one of Husson’s top starters this season, going 3-2 in six starts, including two complete games. His wins total equals that of his first three seasons.
“The thing about Ben is he finds a way to get outs,” Harvey said. “And that’s something to be said about pitching. He doesn’t sit 86, 87 — he’s probably a high 70, low 80s guy, got a good off-speed that keeps hitters off balance. He mixes speeds to allow him to be successful on the mound.”
Holmes said turning back into a starter felt like old hat, but there was some readjusting to the role. That was all ironed out by the time NAC conference play started, during which Holmes leads the Eagles in innings pitched and strikeouts heading into the final weekend of the season.
While Holmes had to work into his role, Wong earned a starting nod from the moment he stepped on campus.
“Really, Mike came in as a first-year guy and started for us,” Harvey said. “We liked Mike right out of high school. We thought he fits into the model that we were looking for for our middle infield. He’s a tough kid, really grinds out offensive at-bats, and in middle infield can make some plays and take some hits away.”
Wong was the Eagles’ starting shortstop last year, but, just like Holmes, had to make a transition this season. He has switched spots in the double-play tandem, and is now the starting second baseman as a sophomore.
“Mike’s a kid that’s very talented, very athletic, he can do a lot of really good things on the defensive side,” Harvey said.
Wong’s bat has been his biggest asset in his first two seasons for the Eagles. He hit .252 as a freshman, and has increased his batting average to .259 this season. His on-base percentage has jumped from .283 last year to .389 this year, and he is among Husson’s leaders in multiple categories while hitting out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup.
Holmes and Wong aren’t the only players from the Tri-County area on the Husson roster. Matthew Smith and Blake Slicer are former Oxford Hills standouts who are freshmen on the team, and Oak Hill grad Jonah Martin is one of their classmates. Kyle Bourget, from Lisbon, is a sophomore classmate of Wong.
The Eagles are currently second in the NAC, behind Castleton. Husson hosts the Spartans for a four-game weekend series to close the regular season, and a sweep would jump the Eagles into the conference’s top spot.
The conference champion has been one of those two teams every year since 2008, but the Eagles haven’t won the crown since 2013. Holmes wants to take it back before he graduates.
With his leadership, which Harvey raved about, as well as Wong’s contributions on the diamond, the Eagles have a chance to capture a title once again.
“We take pride in making sure we have guys that can continue building us and continue to move us up the ladder, as far as success goes,” Harvey said. “When we start looking at guys that we want in our program, obviously those two embody what we want.”
Former Dirigo High School standout Ben Holmes is in his senior season as a pitcher at Husson University.Husson pitcher Ben Holmes, who played at Dirigo High School, throws against Bates College.
Mike WongBen Holmes