Auburn native Gavin Bates, center, with his parents Rodney and Rhonda on Friday after signing a national letter of intent to play baseball at the University of Dayton in Ohio. Bates played hockey, baseball and soccer at St. Dom’s his freshman and sophomore seasons before attending Kents Hill, where he played baseball and hockey. (Randy Whitehouse/Sun Journal)

READFIELD — Gavin Bates enrolled at Kents Hill School two years ago in hopes of advancing his hockey career. On Friday, the Auburn native and former St. Dom’s athlete signed a national letter of intent to attend the University of Dayton on a baseball scholarship.

Bates, who attended St. Dom’s for his freshman and sophomore years, picked the Division I school in Ohio after considering Maine, Rhode Island, Boston College and Bryant University. He will enroll in August and compete for a spot on the Flyers’ pitching staff.

“I knew I wanted to go outside of Maine. I visited the campus and it was great,” said Bates, who will enroll as an undecided major. “I liked their pitching coach. Head coach Jayson King is really outgoing. He’s kind of an old-school guy and I like that. I just knew when I went there that it was going to be a contender for where I want to go to college.”

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound righthander played hockey and baseball at St. Dom’s and transferred to Kents Hill in hopes of using the former as his path to further his education. But he started making a name for himself in baseball recruiting circles while playing for his AAU team, the Maine Lightning out of Portland.

“I left St. Dom’s to go to Kents Hill for hockey, repeated my sophomore year here, and then I joined the Lightning and started getting exposure for baseball,” he said. “I had no clue where it would take me. I just kept following the path. Then I got a few baseball offers and thought, ‘This is pretty realistic now.'”

“I talked to my coaches and we all thought I was ready, and talked to my family and friends and we all thought it was time to go,” added Bates, who was flanked by his parents, Rodney and Rhonda, as he signed his NLI at Kents Hill.

Bates, who will graduate a year early from Kents Hill later this month, accepted a 50 percent scholarship for Dayton. He plans to continue playing this summer for the Lightning and Rogers Post 153, Auburn’s American Legion team, and position himself to play for the Flyers as a freshman.

“I’d say I have to work on my fastball command, improving my spin rate on my curve ball and keeping it low in the zone,” he said. “Holding baserunners will be big, but I’d say mostly just pinpointing spots.”

He’s already come a long way in that regard since his first start as a freshman at St. Dom’s. Coach Bob Blackman gave him a start against a powerful Dirigo team because injuries had thinned out his pitching staff.

“When I pitched against Dirigo, I knew I was throwing hard, I struck out their number three and four guys, but everyone else, I was walking. I had 12 walks. I think I threw 120 pitches in four innings on one of the hottest days of the year,” Bates said. “I was like, ‘I have a good arm, but I don’t know if pitching is for me.'”

Blackman stuck with him and Bates bounced back in a big way his next start, striking out 15 Monmouth Mustangs. The Saints went on to win the Class C state title with Bates as their starting catcher and spot starter.

Bates continued to lean on Blackman for coaching and advice even after leaving St. Dom’s following a dominant sophomore season.

“He started my career as a pitcher at St. Dom’s, and I’ll go back to him in the summer and he kind of brings me back to the basics and helps me feel comfortable on the mound,” he said.

“Two years (at St. Dom’s) was too short. It was probably one of my most disappointing days as a coach when I heard he was leaving St. Dom’s to go to Kents Hill,” Blackman said. “But he and I have stayed in contact and worked out a little bit in the summer. Gav was one of my favorites.”

Bates grew up playing hockey for state and national championship teams with the Maine Moose and earning all-state honors at St. Dom’s. 

But working with Ligtning coach Ryan Copp he developed better command and saw his fastball velocity improve from mid-80s to as high as 93 mph recently.

Working with Kents Hill coach Mike Hannon over the last two years helped develop his repertoire — which also includes a curve/slider and change-up.

“He has just refined what he came here with,” Hannon said. “He’s strictly worked on his pitching here and really worked on his command. He’s gotten better and better over the two years with his command and his demeanor on the mound. He can overpower players at this level.”

“His competitiveness and his presence on the mound keeps us in any game,” Hannon said. “We’ve faced teams that are ranked among the top 10 prep schools in New England, and we can be right there with them with Gavin and his presence on the mound.”

Overpowering hitters at the Division I college level will be more difficult, but Blackman believes Bates has the intangibles to become a more complete pitcher and succeed at Dayton.

“He’s got the grit. One thing that Gavin hates to do it lose,” Blackman said. “He’s got that work ethic and he’s going to continue to work at it. He knows he’s not going to be able to live with just the fastball at that level, so hopefully once he gets there he’ll develop a little tighter slider and change-up and he’ll be OK. His arm speed and velocity is there already.”


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