STANDISH – Poland Regional High School has officially arrived as a baseball powerhouse. Simply being very good and getting close aren’t enough to satisfy.

The tears, the blank stares and the listless spitting of sunflower seed shells gave away Poland’s fate Tuesday afternoon. Greely spoiled the party, 5-3, in a Western Class B final Tuesday that backed up all the conventional, cliché-ridden wisdom about beating a close rival three times in a row.

Play this game tomorrow, next week or a month from now and the Knights might prevail 3-2, as they did twice during the Western Maine Conference campaign. Bring these teams together each of the next seven days, and to paraphrase what Greely coach Derek Soule humbly, eloquently and correctly stated, either club should thank heaven above for the privilege of winning four.

All of which is pretty heady stuff for a school that’s still only half as old as its departing players.

“I feel for our (eight) seniors. They wanted to play on Saturday, which unfortunately they won’t get to do,” said Poland coach Dave Jordan. “But in terms of our program, they got 46 wins the past three years.”

Translate that to a winning percentage and it’s a lusty. 900. Or about triple what every other team sport has achieved in a brutally rugged conference during Poland’s brief history as an athletic program.

Other than a few cheerleading and individual track and field titles, the sports trophy case at Poland has more space for rent than Auburn Mall. Learning curves have been steep. Coaching tenures, brief.

But if building a winner in football or basketball seems a fantasy, imagine baseball, a sport that is fading at the youth level and even struggles to compete with lacrosse in some towns.

Give it up for Jordan and those eight seniors: Will Griffiths, Joe Douglass, Tyler Merchant, Matt Whalen, Jake Pelletier, Eric Picard, Jake Sproul and Whitney Cross. They’ve somehow made the beleaguered national pastime THE sport in their community.

The crowd at Poland home games is staggering compared even to Class A schools. While most communities struggle to round up any nine kids to choose summer baseball over jobs, cars and girls, Jordan and the Poland brain trust will oversee two teams once school’s out.

“We’ve had a great season. This is only the second game we’ve lost all year,” said Griffiths, who pitched Poland to each of its previous playoff victories over Falmouth and Maranacook. “This is something that will linger for a while, but we did our best.”

Class B baseball isn’t a picture of parity. Since Poland joined the fray less than a decade ago, five schools — Greely, Gorham, Maranacook, Oak Hill and Cape Elizabeth — have kept the regional title among themselves. Gorham (now in Class A) knocked off Poland in the 2005 Western final.

Three errors, one notable base running blunder and a couple flip-a-coin calls at first base were all that separated this Knights from shattering the glass ceiling.

“I put a lot of the blame on myself,” Griffiths said. “I got thrown out at home (trying to score on a throwing error in the second inning) in a situation where I probably should have stayed at third. That’s something I’ll probably regret for a long time.”

Hopefully the emotionally drained Griffiths and his fellow graduates stopped to survey the monster they’ve created after the bus returned to town.

There are batting cages and pitching machines along the third base line of the home diamond that future Knights actually stand in line and wait to use.

Jordan, whose passion for the game is increasingly rare for someone in the 30-to-39 demographic, isn’t going anywhere. Young players flock by the dozens to his year-round skills clinics. University of Maine head coach Steve Trimper is a friend and frequent visitor.

“We don’t duck teams,” Jordan said. “We play Greely twice, Cape Elizabeth twice, Falmouth twice, St. Dom’s. So that’s what we’ll keep doing to get better. I thought we were better this time than we were last time we made it this far, and the next time we come back we’ll be better again.”

Friday night football and February vacation trips to Augusta and Portland are the be-all, end-all at most high schools these days. But Poland is poised to make sunny Tuesday afternoons in May and June all the rage for the foreseeable future.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His e-mail is [email protected]


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