While the big leaguers are still knocking off the rust in empty stadiums, the Maine Independent Baseball League playoffs are already underway, with teams from Turner and Winthrop among those hoping to be playing in Augusta this weekend.

Winthrop advanced to the 17U South semifinals after beating the Capital Bombers, an Augusta-based team, 5-3 in eight innings on Monday.

With the win, fourth-seeded Winthrop will face the winner of Wednesday’s scheduled quarterfinal between top-seeded Falmouth and No. 8 Farfield. The second-seeded Turner Bandits will host No. 7 Messalonskee at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Hosmer Field in Rumford for the right to face the winner of the other quarterfinal between Skowhegan and the Maineiacs, who are based in Waldoboro.

Formed this summer after the cancellation of the high school and American Legion seasons due to the coronavirus, the Maine Independent Baseball League contains 28 teams in the 17U and 19U age groups from mostly central, midcoast and northern Maine.

While the 19U group consists of one division of mostly Bangor-area teams, the 17U group was split into two divisions, North and South, with teams playing 15-17 games within their division, followed by a single-elimination playoff. The division finals and championship games will be played at Capital Area Sports Complex in Augusta on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

The Turner Bandits are made up of players from Leavitt and Dirigo high schools and Hebron Academy. Dirigo’s Dallas Berry and Jacob York and Hebron brothers Austin and Connor DeCoster have made the offense, but it’s been a strong pitching staff led by Leavitt’s Matt Wallingford and Garrett Mollica and Dirigo’s Cole Brown that have pushed the Bandits to a 12-3 record.

The Turner Bandits, an independent baseball team, consist mostly of players from Leavitt and Dirigo high schools, pose for photo. The team includes, front row, from left, Jacob York and Dallas Berry; middle, from left, Landry Arsenault, Tanner Sawyer, Austin DeCoster, Ryan Thibeault, Derek Ducharme, Connor DeCoster, Hunter Gagliardi, Cole Brown, Matt Wallingford, Mitchell Bean; back, from left, Garrett Mollica, Jake Lacy and Brogan McCormick. Not pictured: Jordan Dunham. Submitted photo

“Our pitching staff has carried us for a lot of the year,” said Bandits coach Ryan Palmer, who coaches at Central Maine Community College and formerly coached at Dirigo.

Winthrop, which is skippered by Winthrop High School coach John Novak, draws players from Winthrop and Gardiner high schools and Monmouth and Lincoln academies. Winthrop’s Gavin Perkins and Colby Emery, Monmouth’s Hayden Fletcher and Corey Armstrong and Lincoln’s Nick Prior are among the top contributors on the team, which improved to 9-6-1 with Monday’s win.

“It’s been a solid group,” Novak said. “Everyone is contributing pretty equally. It’s been nice to get a couple of kids who haven’t played in a couple of years back playing baseball.”

“It’s not so much about winning,” he added, “as just being happy all of these kids came out and have a chance to play, where they didn’t get a chance to play in the spring.”

Novak and Palmer said the level of play in the league has improved since the start, not surprising considering many of the kids hadn’t been on a field since last summer.

“Once the rust shook off and we got some practices behind us, the quality of play has been pretty good,” said Novak, whose team has been playing and practicing at Winthrop HS.

Games have been mostly competitive, too, Palmer said, as chemistry has improved among players who haven’t played together before this summer.

“One of the biggest things for our team is they’ve been together off the field a lot this summer,” Palmer said. “It’s been a fun summer as far as that goes.”

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