Right: Bessey Motors catcher Wyatt Williamson fires the ball to first base after getting a force out at home plate during an American Legion baseball game in June. Left: Pastime Club catcher Brock Belanger waits for a pitch during an American Legion baseball game in Paris in June. (Sun Journal illustration)

Bessey Motors and Pastime Club will be led by their catchers in more ways than one at the American Legion state tournament, which opens Saturday at Husson University.

For Bessey, Wyatt Williamson just finished his sophomore year at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School. Brock Belanger, who played at Lewiston High School, is a four-year starting backstop who calls all the pitches and is the leadoff hitter for Pastime.

While both have been playing baseball for as long as they can remember, their coaches say they’ve made major strides in 2018.

“Last year, as a freshman, it was just about trying to catch up,” Bessey head coach Shane Slicer said. “His intensity has always been the same, but how he has really improved is he has gotten in the weight room. His arm strength has improved greatly. He’s always been a great blocker, tough behind the plate, but what separates him now are two things: his arm, he throws really well and has had multiple pickoffs, but also confidence running the team.”

Williamson has expanded his role this season for the Zone 2 runner-up from solely a catcher to also a pitcher. And a good one at that. Williamson lost his first game of 2018 on Monday as Pastime got the best of them 3-0 in the zone championship. Before that, Slicer estimated that Williamson had won eight in a row, dating back to the high school season.

“We held off on using him (at pitcher) until we needed to,” Slicer said. “It’s tough because at that time he is going from catching pitchers to pitching, which is pretty taxing. He definitely likes it, wants the moment, and his performance made us do it. We didn’t have a choice, we had to put him on.”

Williamson isn’t a stranger to pitching. As a 13- and 14-year-old, Williamson, along with Bessey teammates Colton Carson, Janek Luksza and Rodney Bean, were on the Tri-County All-Stars Babe Ruth team that made it to Nationals in back-to-back years. Williamson was a starting pitcher and catcher on those teams.

“We had a lot of fun,” Williamson said. “I started and I did mostly pitching then.“

Williamson and many Bessey players have been teammates for several years. The camaraderie that has been built over the years has opened up Williamson’s growth and also the responsibilities entrusted to him.

“I try to be a leader on the team,” Williamson said. “As a catcher, you definitely have to be really vocal, and that’s what I try to do. Me and all the pitchers, we all have really good relationships and we are all really good friends, too. We work well together.”

Williamson has embraced his role, and Slicer and the team have taken notice.

“When he comes to the park he is ready to go, he’s really intense,” Slicer said. “I think people see that he never takes a break, whether it’s pregame, whether it’s anything. It sets a tone for his teammates. They know how tough he is, and he’s not afraid to say something to a senior. If they don’t do something he’s not afraid to let them know, and his maturity that way has been tremendous.”

There have been times this season when Bessey has had weekend doubleheaders in which Williamson pitched the first game and caught the second. Just a year ago, that feat looked improbable, but an offseason workout regimen taken on by Williamson and his teammates has helped him be able to survive the rigors of five straight months of baseball.

“Strength-wise, I have grown,” Williamson said. “We have been working out as a team a lot this winter and my arm has definitely gotten a lot stronger. My mechanics, too, they’ve gotten better.”

Someone with mechanics that rival the best in the state is Belanger, who next year will be playing baseball at Husson, the home of the state tournament this weekend.

“I don’t think I have the strongest arm around, I know it’s something I have to work on,” Belanger said. “I just know my vision lines, seeing the guy, knowing when he’s going to go and the lead he’s taking, it makes me successful.”

Belanger is the cousin of Pastime head coach Jake Brown.

“I think he’s the most accurate thrower that I’ve seen,” Brown said. “If he doesn’t throw the guy out then it is right there. Defensively, all of our pitchers feel comfortable throwing the ball low. I think at this level you want to work low in the strike zone, and all the pitchers feel comfortable throwing a curveball low with him back there.”

That’s only if Belanger wants them to throw a curveball. It is his decision, since he calls all the pitches. Both his high school and Legion coaches have allowed Belanger to call pitches since he was a freshman. As with Williamson, Belanger’s confidence has been growing ever since.

“I think it’s just starting back at sophomore year, just playing and knowing the guys,” Belanger said. “It gives me more confidence that everyone does trust me to make calls like that. Pitch calling is very important and they trust me.”

Belanger has a lot of faith in himself, but Pastime’s defense gives him leeway on how aggressive he can play.

“I feel like I can take more chances,” Belanger said. “For example, when I throw over to first, I like to do that quite often, and on a bad throw, Nick Lerette will block it. Not much is getting by him. Throws to second are the same thing.”

Williamson feels the same way, as Bessey’s defense has opened up the game for him on the mound.

“It is a lot easier to pitch when you know you’ve got a great defense behind you,” Williamson said. “It gives you a lot of relief to be able to throw strikes. You don’t have to do too much as a pitcher, just focus on throwing strikes and walking the least. “

While defense is a large part of the game, Belanger has become more confident at the plate, as well, batting leadoff for the Zone 2 champions. Heading into the state tournament, Pastime is leaning heavily on their catcher to get the offense started, which he’s done many times this season.

“I think you’ve got a kid that just loves to play baseball and he loves the big spots,” Brown said. “It’s energy. You see your catcher, your leadoff hitter, playing that hard, forces everyone else to play that hard. His aggressiveness on the base paths pushes everyone to be aggressive. It’s one of the things we do every day is try to force the defense to make tough plays. I think the amount of time we get a leadoff hit from him we usually get a run that inning.”

Both catchers are leader by example for their respective playoff teams.

Bessey opens the state tournament against Yankee Ford at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“I think the competition is going to be awesome. It’s going to be great,” Slicer said. “I love our kids, and I love the way they compete.”

Brown feels similar as Belanger leads Pastime against Hampden at 1 p.m.

“We are going to rely on that leadership in states,” Brown said. “It’s his fourth state tournament, because he was there as an eighth-grader. Our guys expect to be in this spot, so we are ready. I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of nerves, it’s going to be about are we clean defensively and making sure we get those clutch hits when we need them.”

Bessey Motors catcher Wyatt Williamson fires the ball to first base after getting a force out of Pastime’s Brodi Farinas at home plate during an American Legion baseball game in June. (Sun Journal file photo)

Pastime Club catcher Brock Belanger waits for the pitch as Bessey Motors’ Troy Johnson swings at the ball during an American Legion baseball game in Paris in June. (Sun Journal file photo)

Pastime Club catcher Brock Belanger chases the ball as Rogers Post’s Damien St. Pierre slides into home plate during an American Legion baseball game in Auburn earlier this month. (Sun Journal file photo)


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