If the Winthrop Ramblers are going to reach the post-season, they will be able to control their own destiny in the next two weeks.
Picked to be among the top teams in the Mountain Valley Conference South this year, the Ramblers got off to a rocky 2-4 start.
“I’m not sure what’s affecting us. I really didn’t expect to be 3-4 right now,” Winthrop coach Marc Fortin said. “We’ve had a tough time putting it all together.”
When they’ve been pitching well, the Ramblers haven’t been getting the timely hits. When they’ve been hitting well, their pitching has struggled. Mix in a few costly errors and it added up to a surprisingly slow start.
The Ramblers figured to contend in Western C with a solid core led by Eric Duplissis, Ryan Conant, Ryan Castonguay and Travis Luce. In fact, they have shown flashes at times, leading Monmouth 3-1 and St. Dom’s 8-3 before dropping 9-4 and 18-8 decisions against those teams, who rank among the top six in the Western C Heal Points. They also dropped an 11-6 loss to Wiscasset, another MVC South contender.
Winthrop beat Lisbon on Friday, 16-0, to improve to 3-4, and the Ramlbers still have a chance to redeem themselves over the next two weeks. They host Wiscasset next Monday and St. Dom’s the following Monday, then travels a few minutes up Route 202 meet Monmouth Academy on May 25.
“We have to beat Wiscasset, Monmouth or St. Dom’s. We think we have to get two out of three of those in the second half (to make the tournament),” Fortin said. “We had a lead against them, we just haven’t been able to hold the lead against good clubs. And it isn’t that they’ve beaten us. We’ve beaten ourselves.
Conant a real catch
Dirigo graduated all but two starters from its Class C state championship club going into this spring, but first-year coach Ryan Palmer wasn’t concerned about having many holes on his team.
Palmer was concerned about one very big question mark: Who would take over for all-MVC catcher Eric Bolduc? Would Dirigo’s pitchers, who rely heavily on their breaking pitches, have enough confidence to throw one in a big situation like they did with Bolduc behind the plate.
Senior Justin Conant has quickly put his coach and pitchers at ease.
“I’ll tell you one thing — Justin Conant is getting better and better every single day,” Palmer said. “Early on in the season, the outside pitch would have been off the edge of his glove and we’d have maybe four or five passed balls a game. But now, very rarely do you see one get by him, and that’s a very good sign.”
Conant served as an understudy to Bolduc and credited his mentor with preparing him to take over the backstop duties this year.
“Bolduc’s definitely been big shoes to fill, but he taught me a lot over the years and it’s really helping this year,” Conant said.
The biggest area of improvement, he added, has been blocking balls in the dirt. The pitchers have noticed.
“He’s been doing great,” Dirigo pitcher Ben Holmes said. “You’ve got to have a lot of confidence in him behind the plate and have a good relationship, too.”
The highlight of Conant’s year so far has been catching Arik Fenstermacher’s no-hitter against Mountain Valley on Monday.
“That was the first no-hitter I’ve caught, so I’ve had a good week,” he said.
Indeed, Conant had a big week with the bat for the Cougars, hitting an RBI single against the Falcons, a two-run homer in Wednesday 11-6 win over Livermore Falls and driving in two runs on sacrifice flies in Friday’s 4-1 victory over Telstar.
Five local teams with very different schedules will be battling to reach the Western Class B tournament down the stretch. Oak Hill and Leavitt were clinging to the No. 7 and No. 9 spots, respectively, as of Friday night, while KVAC rival Maranacook was just a couple of points behind in the 11th spot. Perennial MVC power Mountain Valley was 10th while WMC hopeful Gray-New Gloucester was 12th but just a little over three points behind the final qualifying spot.
Oak Hill could struggle to accrue points next week with low-rated Nokomis, Mt View and Maranacook on the schedule, but the Raiders end the season with two games against Gardiner and one each against Leavitt and Maranacook.
Leavitt has Mt. View, Rockland and Belfast scheduled next week, with Rockland the only team ranked among playoff contenders. But the Hornets close with a point-rich slate of Waterville, Oak Hill, Gardiner and Maranacook.
Mountain Valley could gain some ground with a conference schedule that includes Telstar, Dirigo, Jay, Livermore Falls and Mt. Abram.
Gray-New Gloucester may be the most handicapped team of all in terms of points available on its schedule. The Patriots have five games remaining against the bottom three teams in Western B — Lake Region, Fryeburg and two games against Poland — plus York and Wells, which are currently in the middle of the pack.