From left to right: Josh Murphy, Keegan McLaughlin and Noah Hill pose before a baseball practice as Lewiston prepares for its Class A North quarterfinal matchup with seventh-seeded Cony High School. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Lewiston baseball got off to a delayed start because of quarantine rules due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but now the Blue Devils are ahead of the pack as the Class A North playoffs begin. 

The Blue Devils started 12 days after the rest of the state because of a team quarantine, then had to face off against the 2019 Class A runners-up Oxford Hills in a doubleheader to start the season. 

Josh Murphy started the first game and Lewiston lost in a heartbreaking, extra-innings battle, then got beat handedly in the second game after not having as many pitchers available as it would have later in the year because of the delay. 

The losses, followed by a 12-10 loss at home to rival Edward Little to begin the season 0-3, could have been looked at as a resignation, a sign that the season was over before it really got started, but adversity was something this team grew accustomed to and battled against. 

“We could have gotten on the bus and gone home and forfeited,” Lewiston coach Darren Hartley said about the first loss of the season to Oxford Hills. “We were so emotionally overwhelmed by that late-inning loss and it really hurt us and then we had a situation with pitching coming with that COVID situation, so we knew what we were getting into. It was unfortunate to lose that late-inning game. Now we have a bunch of sophomores who are like juniors, and our juniors are great leaders, and our seniors have fit in their role over their four years in the program.”

Now, Lewiston has won 13 games in a row, including two against Cony High School, and will look to make it three at home Thursday for its Class A North quarterfinal matchup. 

The second-seeded Blue Devils have been aggressive at the plate, have thrown strikes on the mound and leaned on their leaders, who have stepped up in different ways throughout their 13-game streak. 

“Thirteen wins in a row, it’s a combination of luck and other things but our philosophy is real simple: Our pitchers throw strikes, we defend well and we try to get a couple more timely hits,” Hartley said. “If you look at it, the only times we have gotten in trouble is when we don’t throw strikes and that’s the truth. When our guys pound the strike zone and allow our team to defend we are pretty darn good.”

Murphy, a junior, was called out by Hartley during the EL loss at the beginning of the season, leaving the game alone with his head down, and has responded well since. 

“Lack of focus in the first inning, didn’t play how I should be playing and I was sulking after that inning and I needed to be put in my place,” Murphy said. “Coach came and talked to me and we came out more calm after that. I think nerves were a big part.”

Murphy’s results speak for themselves. 

“If you look at how Murphy has responded, you go back to the first game, Josh has thrown 36.3 innings, he’s given up 10 earned runs, his base-on-ball count is too high but he’s struck out 46 guys,” Hartley said. “He loses that opener but has won four in a row with two saves. We know what we have, he’s an outstanding player, conceivably the player of the year in our conference in my opinion.”

When the season was shut down last year before it even got started, Murphy was in the weight room, in training facilities and anywhere else he could work on his game, “for 30-50 hours a week,” according to Hartley. While Murphy doesn’t play hockey, the Lewiston baseball team has seven hockey players on it and Hartley credits the Lewiston hockey team’s former coach Jamie Belleau with instilling hard work and preparation skills into his team. 

“Jamie Belleau teaches his hockey players how to grind, how to pick each other up and I have the benefit of seven of them on my team,” Hartley said.

Keegan McLaughlin, Lewiston’s top catcher, has become the team’s second starting pitcher and has helped bring the hockey team’s work ethic to the team.

“When baseball got canceled last year we were instantly thinking about hockey,” McLaughlin said. “We were thinking hockey, hockey, hockey and we didn’t know if we would have baseball or not because we didn’t know if we would have a season, but we have a couple guys here that just work constantly. I know Murphy did and I know Noah (Hill) did, too. Putting in the effort in the offseason was really key for us.”

McLaughlin, a 2021 finalist for the Travis Roy award this winter, has been a strong leader for Lewiston, throwing around a 2.00 ERA in his starts on the mound. McLaughlin was also a catalyst for Lewiston’s 13th win that came against Oxford Hills. 

The Blue Devils headed into the seventh inning against the Vikings on June 2 down 10-2, but McLaughlin was right there in the dugout telling his teammates that they had three outs to play with. They then went on to beat the Vikings 11-10. 

“The guys came down and their heads were hanging in the sixth inning of the Oxford Hills game and he said, ‘Hey, we have three outs, we’re playing with three outs,’” Hartley said. “Then, the next thing you know, we score four runs in five minutes and everyone believes we are in. I told Keegan after the game that he was the catalyst for that inning because he wasn’t afraid to open his mouth and say, ‘Let’s not stop, we have three outs.’”

“It was the best feeling in the world,” McLaughlin added. “They’re a really good ball club and we’re a really good ball club so it’s going to be close every time we play them.”

Lewiston has a lot of playmakers. Danny May has played well in the field and at the plate and was called “the best center fielder in Class A” by Hartley. Damon Bossie was lauded by his coach for his aggression at the plate and being the “best overall athlete on the team,” but Hill, a captain and a top pitcher for Lewiston, has been battling injuries all season but has become a rallying point for the team. 

Hill has seen the growth of his team from the start and has seemingly the highest confidence level of the team. 

“A couple guys get on base and it’s like a domino effect,” Hill said. “We get on and a guy hits it into a gap, we steal, we score. It’s what we do. We are very athletic, top to bottom, like Murph said, we can get on base. I am pretty confident that one-through-nine we can all steal a base. We are pretty athletic and that’s a big difference, and we are pretty motivated.”

As for the playoffs, the team is revving high. 

“I think we are a force to be reckoned with, for sure,” McLaughlin said. “I think we have just as much of a chance as Oxford or EL and I think we are kind of getting looked down on from earlier in the season, but once we put up 13 in a row, Lewiston’s the team.”

“We want it,” Hill added. “I think we can go all the way with our lineup and how we have been pitching. I think people are scared to play us and we are going to do pretty well.”


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