PARIS — Shane Slicer’s voice choked up like a leadoff hitter in an 0-2 hole when he was asked about what Matt Verrier meant to the Oxford Hills Vikings in his four-year career. 

“He’s irreplaceable,” Slicer said moments after the Vikings won their second state title in six years. “We’re going to miss him. I have a tough time talking about it.”

Any coach losing the best player he’s had or likely ever will have would get a little verklempt, especially after he concluded his career as a four-year starting catcher in such impressive fashion.

Of course, opponents couldn’t wait to miss Verrier from the time he announced he would attend and play baseball at the University of Maine before his junior season. Getting a pitcher to throw him something to hit was often difficult. Getting a base-runner to test his arm was virtually impossible. Yet Verrier could impact a game like no other player in the state, which is why he is the 2010 Sun Journal All-Region Baseball Player of the Year.

In 2010, Verrier batted nearly .500 with two home runs and 30 RBIs in 20 games. In the state championship win against Biddeford, he neutralized the Tigers’ running game, helping to preserve Erik Henderson’s seven-hit shutout by throwing out the only base-runner who tried to swipe a base.

“(Winning the state championship) is the ultimate thrill,” he said. “I’d waited for it for so long. All that extra hitting, all the work we’ve put in, it’s paid off.”

“I trust him with the world,” Henderson said. “He can block anything. He’s such a great catcher and a great athlete.”

That trust was earned over the dozens of times Verrier caught Henderson in their baseball careers, but all of Verrier’s teammates looked to him for leadership on and off the field.

“Our players respect his work ethic, and I think it translated,” Slicer said. “As coaches, we can say, ‘You’ve got to work out. You’ve got to do this in the winter,’ all we want, but it really comes from within or a teammate. When Matt’s the one that says, ‘Hey, jump in the car, we’re going down to Frozen Ropes tonight. We’re gonna hit,’ and he grabs everybody and they go, that’s something I can’t order. I just think they want to be like him. That’s a great characteristic to have, for your peers to want to be like you.”

It’s not just Verrier’s peers, Slicer said.

“You look around and there are a ton of kids that have come into our program, little kids that look up to him,” he said. “For the program, when you’ve got the best baseball player in the state playing for you, it just gets everybody excited.”

Verrier remained loyal to the program even as it became apparent that he stood out from the rest of the Vikings. In today’s youth sports culture, athletes often devote their time and effort to their own development. They play on countless travel, AAU and all-star teams and relegate their high school team to the back of the bus.

Verrier played in showcases and for several regional all-star teams. He went national in last summer’s Area Code Games, playing with and against some of the top high school baseball talent in America. But he made sure his thoughts and baseball talent didn’t venture too far from South Paris for very long.

 “I started off playing Legion ball for Shane coming out of the eighth grade,” he said, “and he’s always wanted the best for me. And my teammates, I’m doing it for these guys and they’re doing it for me. If I could bring them to college with me to play with me, I’d bring them with me. I’ve told them that, too.”

Verrier earned several honors this season, including KVAC Player of the Year, Maine Gatorade Player of the Year and the John Winkin Award as the state’s top senior baseball player.

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