SOUTH PARIS – He went from a No. 4 starter to a small-town hero in the matter of a couple of hours. That much, Chris Jennings remembers clearly.
“It feels like that whole day is just a blur,” Jennings said of a particular day last June.
The details are a little fuzzy even though Jennings still relives last year’s Class A state championship game at least once every 24 hours. The Oxford Hills pitcher shook off a dislocated middle finger and a 400-foot homer in the first inning to shut down a powerful Westbrook line-up and lead the Vikings to a long-awaited state title.
“It’s something you think about every day,” said Jennings, now a senior captain for the Vikings. “It’s the main conversation with everybody you talk to.”
“It was an amazing experience, something I’ll never forget but…in a lot of ways, you’ve got to let that go and get ready for this season,” he added.
Jennings is now otherwise known around the Oxford Hills area as “that kid who pitched in the championship game.” He may have become more well known to the people there, but what he found out about himself is what’s important to him this season.
Jennings made his mark on Oxford Hills history last year. This year, he wants to make his mark on his team. A co-captain and part of a veteran nucleus that will lead the Vikings in their title defense as their No. 1 starter, he’s very wary of complacency setting in this year.
Coach Shane Slicer isn’t quite as concerned, precisely because he has Jennings around to make sure it doesn’t.
“He’s one of those kids that you don’t worry about. You worry about the kids that are satisfied with what happened last year,” Slicer said. “He’s a senior now and it’s his team and I don’t think he’s going to let that happen.”
Something else Jennings won’t let happen is for his team to get too tight or for factions to develop in the dugout, as often happens on high school teams.
“I can’t stress enough how important our team chemistry was last year,” Jennings said. “We never got down on each other. We’d never hear anything negative out of our captains.”
“He competes very hard, but he also is the comedian,” Slicer said. “He keeps things loose, which some of the kids need, and at the same time he’s able to compete very well.”
Jennings is competitive throwing batting practice, Slicer said. He carries that bulldog mentality into games, and even though he doesn’t have overpowering stuff (a fastball in the low 70s, an improved curve ball and a developing change-up), he doesn’t back down to anyone.
“He has an attitude that says he’s in charge of the game and he’s in charge of the situation and it’s his to lose,” Slicer said.
Jennings credits his long-time catcher, Russell Estes, with keeping him focused and confident on the hill.
“Russell calls the game more than I call the game. I just throw what he tells me to throw most of the time,” he said.
“He’s one of the smartest players that I’ve ever played with,” Estes said. “We’re always on the same page. He puts the pitch where I want it.”
Jennings has been accepted to the University of Maine, Thomas College and Husson College and is leaning toward Husson, where he wants to study business administration and play for the legendary John Winkin.
Wherever he goes, he probably won’t still be known as “that kid who pitched in the championship game,” even if he pitches the Vikings to another one this year. Jennings knows it doesn’t matter what other people know about him, anyway, as long as he’s finding out more about himself.
“That’s the whole point of sports right there, to teach you about yourself and determination and heart and build character for the rest of your life,” he said. “That’s what’s really important.”