STRONG — Luck hasn’t exactly been Aaron McGuiness’ ally on the baseball diamond the last couple of years. So the Mt. Abram senior southpaw is ready to take matters into his own hands.
Two years ago, an errant baseball shattered McGuiness’ jaw as he was sliding into second base in a game against Livermore Falls. The break required four screws and meals through a straw for two months, and he missed much of his sophomore year.
McGuiness returned stronger and more determined than ever as a junior, and he quickly emerged as one of the top pitchers in the Mountain Valley Conference. But poor run support and a lack of leadership on the team limited him to just three wins, despite a sub-2.00 ERA, and arguably brought about a premature end to the 2009 season for the Roadrunners.
The bad luck carried over into the preseason, as McGuiness was battling walking pneumonia when pitchers and catchers reported last month. Now recovered and ready to unveil an expanded pitching repertoire, the wiry lefty is expected to help the Roadrunners contend with Dirigo, Livermore Falls, Mountain Valley and newcomer St. Dom’s in the top-heavy MVC.
“We think we have the pitching to compete, and Aaron is obviously the biggest reason why,” coach Ryan Palmer said.
“He went to a couple of camps and learned a breaking ball to go along with the fastball and change-up, so he should be that much better,” he added.
McGuiness impressed last year with a low-to-mid-80s fastball and effective change-up. The turning point came when he tossed a two-hitter against a powerful Livermore Falls lineup and earned a little redemption in the process.
“He started off slow, then he started getting into it and getting better and then he beat Livermore and that’s all it took. It’s like the light switch came on,” Palmer said
“They were one of the teams to beat, so when I pitched against them, I wanted it more than against any other team. It was a big confidence boost,” McGuiness said.
McGuiness led the Roadrunners to an 8-8 record and surprise berth in the Western C playoffs. But the post-season wasn’t exactly an enjoyable experience because the team’s seniors opted to take a senior trip that fell on the same day as their preliminary game against Traip.
The way last season ended still stings, McGuiness said, and he minces no words while announcing his intention to see this season through to the end.
“That’s one thing that’s motivating me this year,” he said. “I’m definitely going to every playoff game and not missing it for some stupid senior trip.”
McGuiness has the backing of a strong senior nucleus that includes all-conference catcher Dylan Tisor and recent addition Tim Smith, a left-handed transfer from Mt. Blue who, according to Palmer, is very similar to McGuiness on the mound.
Smith will take pressure off McGuiness, said Palmer, who compares the dynamic duo to when he was pitching at Mountain Valley with Craig Jacques to form a strong 1-2 punch.
“It got to be a friendly rivalry. We tried to outdo each other,” Palmer said. “I really think Aaron and Tim can kind of adapt to that and just feed off each other.”
“He’s a huge addition,” said Tisor, who is familiar with Smith, having caught him in American Legion ball. “It’s definitely going to make us better having a 1-2 lefty combo.”
With a 14-game schedule, Palmer hopes to be able to alternate starts between McGuiness and Smith frequently. Smith said he expects they will elevate each others’ games.
“I’m very excited for that,” he said. “It’s going to be nice to have another left-handed pitcher in the rotation. We didn’t have any (lefties) at Mt. Blue that actually pitched in the rotation.”
McGuiness, who was recruited to attend and play baseball at Fisher College next fall, welcomes the help, and would welcome a little good luck as well.
2010 Sun Journal High School Baseball Overview
The 2010 high school baseball season begins with many questions. Is Oxford Hills poised to return to its traditional perch among the KVAC elite? Has Lewiston’s young talent developed enough to join the Vikings? Is there a Class B contender among Mountain Valley, Lisbon, Poland and Oak Hill? How will the addition of St. Dom’s impact the MVC? Who is playing for Livermore Falls and Winthrop? Will a couple of additions from Mt. Blue make Mt. Abram a contender? Who will emerge from the annual Rangeley-Richmond dual for Western D supremacy?
The answers will come at a fast and furious pace because of the brevity of the season. Hopefully, the early spring will help everyone get into mid-season form early, because post-season berths are limited (eight spots in Class A, nine in Western B, 10 in C, four in Western D).
Here is a look at the local teams’ prospects for those coveted spots.
With a senior-laden lineup led by one of the top players in the state, University of Maine-bound catcher Matt Verrier, Oxford Hills will have one of the top teams in the KVAC South. The hope is Cody Hadley can provide enough protection in the cleanup spot to allow Verrier to get some pitches to hit. Nate Dubois, D.J. Croy, Erik Henderson, Hadley and Verrier constitute a deep pitching staff. Lewiston has a talented young squad led by brothers Mekae and Corbin Hyde and a veteran pitching staff led by Corbin Hyde and Joe Sullivan. Scott Annear returns to coach Edward Little after a one-year sabbatical and hopes an unproven pitching staff behind ace Mat Gordon can keep the Red Eddies in the playoff hunt, along with an offense led by Gordon, Ryan Arnold and Kenzie Souders. First-year coach Dan Stefanilo inherits a young Mt. Blue nucleus with solid pitching and defense led by Alec Wallace, Shane Smith, Dylan Vining and Jimmy Neal.
Cony has nearly everyone back to defend its regional title, while Bangor, Brewer and Messalonskee figure to be the power of the KVAC North.
Oak Hill must navigate a tough KVAC slate if it hopes to join the Western Maine party. Once again, pitching will be the Raiders’ strong suit, with Josh Martin, Cam Lebrecque and Cody Plourde expected to benefit from an improved defense. Brett Turcotte and Tim Levesque, who will also see mound duty, lead the offense. With only two returning seniors, Leavitt’s rebuilding program continues with Shawn Berry anchoring the pitching staff. The Hornets will look to Isaiah Wright, Lucas Witham, Jake Ouellette and Kevin Theiss to provide the offensive punch. Lincoln Academy, Waterville and Gardiner will also battle for playoff spots out of the conference.
Mountain Valley Conference foes Mountain Valley and Lisbon already faced tough odds getting enough Heal Points to crack the playoff field in a Class C-dominated conference. Now with that field narrowed, the challenge gets tougher. The Greyhounds will need Frank Angelico, Marcus Bubar and Alex Hall to replace three key bats that graduated. Angelico and Hall lead the mound corps. The Falcons graduated seven seniors, a number of which were the core of their success for the last four years and will have to fight to keep its usual spot among the MVC elite. Derek Volkernick, Connor Blais, Isaac Mills and Brady Fergola make up a revamped pitching staff, while Mills, Fergola, Ryan Laubauskas and Gino Salgado bring experience and pop to the lineup. Gray-New Gloucester has its sights set on a return to the playoffs with Taylor Valente, one of Class B’s top hitters, and Chris Norton and Ryan Blenk pacing a dangerous offense. Valente, Jesse Ordway and Pat Robinson will toe the rubber for the Patriots, who will be tested early with WMC powers Greely, Cape Elizabeth and York among their first four games. Poland lost a lot of talent to graduation also, so navigating the WMC will be a challenge. Matt Brewster is one of just two seniors on the roster and will have to pick up more of the pitching load after fellow senior Mike Littlefield suffered a shoulder injury. Brewster and Connor King will lead the offense.
St. Dom’s seeks to defend its state championship and claim its sixth Western C crown in the last seven years as a member of the MVC. The Saints are already somewhat familiar with their new conference, having run into a number of MVC teams in some heated playoff games in recent years. They will have perhaps their youngest team in four years, but don’t expect them to take a step back, as a talented freshman class has arrived to assist a proven nucleus of Chris Bryant, Kurt Johnson, Shane Curtis, Alex Parker and Joe Bryant. Chris Bryant, 7-1 last year, leads the pitching staff, along with fellow lefty Kurt Johnson. The Saints are heavy favorites to win the MVC South, with Hall-Dale, their opponent in last year’s regional final, expected to be the top challenger with ace Ryan Leach back on the mound. Winthrop has been gutted by graduation and ineligibility, but the Ramblers usually find a way to be a factor in the playoff hunt. Monmouth graduated 10 seniors and is starting the season with just 11 eligible players on a roster that will include six or seven freshmen. Blake Burnham, Jeremy Ashlock and Roger Bachelder give the pitching rotation some experience.
The MVC North figures to be the more competitive division at the top of the standings. Livermore Falls has seven seniors back, but one of them, ace Willie Brown, is nursing two torn knee ligaments that will prevent him from catching and likely keep him off the mound, as well. The Andies still have some solid arms, including Derek Castonguay and James McLamb, who combined for eight wins last year. Brown will play third base and lead a revamped lineup that will probably rely more on small ball and less on power than it has traditionally. Dirigo has proven small ball can be a formula for success in recent years, and run prevention will be the key to the Cougars’ success this year. Ryan Lafleur leads the pitching staff. Second baseman Tyler Gates is the catalyst for the offense and, along with catcher Eric Bolduc, makes the Cougars solid up the middle. Mt. Abram also figures to challenge with a pair of southpaws, Aaron McGuiness and Tim Smith and Mt. Blue transfer Tim Smith, expected to get the bulk of the innings. Catcher Dylan Tisor leads the offense. Telstar had to play a lot of freshmen last year out of necessity. The hope is that experience will pay off in playoff contention this year. Shortstop/pitcher Dan Whitney, one of the top freshmen in the MVClast year, and junior catcher D.J. O’Connor will lead the Rebels. Numbers have been a problem at Jay, so the Tigers primary concern will be staying healthy unless and until reinforcements arrive.
Rangeley and Richmond have dominated the region the last four years and are the favorites this season. The Lakers lost just four starters from last year’s regional runner-up squad and boast a strong pitching staff led by Ross Gordon, Jordan Richard and Zac Abbott. They should get good run support from a lineup that is seven deep. Buckfield has a young nucleus led by one of the top batteries in Class D, senior pitcher Isaac Smith and sophomore catcher Alan Hedrick. Cody White, Kurt Sturtevant and Jarek Boyd add depth to the batting order. Greenville is likely to be the fourth team to make the tournament field.