Monmouth assistant coach Steve Palleschi, far left, Sam Calder, Cam Armstrong, Manny Calder, Hayden Fletcher and head coach Eric Palleschi, far right, and the Mustangs will face Orono in the Class C state title game Saturday in Standish. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

In the seventh inning of Monmouth Academy’s Class C semifinal game against Mt. Abram, Cam Armstrong finally gave up his first hit of the game.

Even though the Mustangs had a lead, assistant coach Steve Palleschi walked out to the mound to talk to his starter.

“I went out and asked him how he was doing, and he said, ‘I feel good, I feel good,’” Palleschi said. “I said, ‘Good, because you look good. Finish this thing.’ It’s not about baseball, mechanics, keep executing.”

Steve Palleschi was a junior in 2001 when the Mustangs last won a state title. Now he is an assistant coach for his cousin Eric Palleschi, and has provided motivation and a positive outlook to this year’ squad.

Twenty years ago, the 2001 Monmouth team, which defeated Van Buren 12-2 to win the Class D title, was centered around mechanics, drills and fundamentally sound baseball. This year, a young group of Mustangs (16-3), seeded second C South, find themselves in the Class C state final against Orono (16-3), the top-seeded team in C North. While Steve says both Monmouth teams were talented, what this year’s young squad lacks in big-game experience it makes up for in chemistry, morale, confidence and coachability. 

“Our first practice was an outdoor practice, and we were out on the tennis courts throwing the ball around, and from that first day to today, it’s like, these kids show up with so much energy and they don’t make it about themselves, they don’t make it about anything but the team,” Steve Palleschi said. “Even if we haven’t been as talented as some of the teams we played and beat, we play as a team. We coach the team and we instruct the individuals but we coach as a team. We have the same approach.”

Head coach Eric Palleschi said earlier in the week that Steve has worked with the team on the mental side of baseball, and it’s paid off. Steve has been important to the team’s growth in confidence and cohesion by his knowledge of the game onto his players and providing motivational words. 

“We talk every single day, even if we don’t have practice,” senior Cam Armstrong said. “Steve is always checking in on us with our group chat, keeping us updated with these 12-paragraph speeches that are always motivational, and all the guys are interacting on there. It’s not just at practice, which also happens everyday at practice.”

On Wednesday, a day after the Mustangs’ regional final against Lisbon was postponed due to weather, the team showed up to the baseball field at Monmouth Academy for practice with their heads down, voices quiet and a somber tone.

“The day after our rainout, we had practice here and everyone was walking to the field with their heads down, not talking,” Eric Palleschi said. “So we just talked for about 45 minutes and asked what was going on and how we were doing. Some teams would just have practice and teams with more experience can roll with the punches better, but I think we were just disappointed we couldn’t play, and so we just talked before we even practiced. The snapchats the night before weren’t messaging, the group chats weren’t talking, so we spoke as a team before we got to work. I think it’s important. We talk before every practice just to check in.”

Steve said that the 2001 team had only one talk like that. Wednesday’s talk worked, and the coaches knew it even before the team stepped onto the field for the rescheduled regional final at St. Joseph’s College on Thursday.

“On the bus ride up to the game Thursday, the speakers were bumping and the seats were bumping, and I think it was at that stop light in Windham, and I turned to Stevie and I said, ‘We’re good to go,’” Eric Palleschi said.

Near the end of the game, Monmouth led 5-0 in the seventh inning but Armstrong had just allowed a couple base runners, so Eric Palleschi told Hayden Fletcher go talk to Armstrong on the mound. Steve didn’t trot out this time, nor did any other players — just Fletcher, a junior, and Armstrong, the team’s lone senior, talking to each other and coaching each other up. 

“I just told him to bear down, get these last two outs, and let’s go celebrate after this,” Fletcher said. “We keep each other in check, everyone holds each other accountable, there’s no one person higher than anyone. We are all a team, we all have different jobs and responsibilities and we keep each other in check.”

The Mustangs finally got the monkeys off their back with a 5-0 victory over Lisbon, similar to how the 2001 squad needed to leap over powerhouse North Yarmouth Academy, which happened to be coached by Eric Palleschi.

“We were blessed with talent, we were well-coached, and we have similarities in that we are well-coached and talented, but this group is so young and so hungry, they’re setting themselves apart,” Steve Palleschi said. “They’re better teammates. I wouldn’t discount that we were good teammates in 2001, but they’re making a lot happen with little experience.

“That’s the most material difference: These guys haven’t played in a state championship, they haven’t played in regional finals, they’ve run into brick walls in Lisbon baseball and Traip soccer. That’s the biggest difference with ’01, we’ve both got arms, we’ve got bats, we’ve had talented defensive players, but I think the material difference with that ’01 team is experience in big games. This team, where this team lacks experience, they believe in themselves.”

COACHING THEMSELVES

Everyone knows their role on this year’s team. The players say it’s easier that way.

“We got it from our coaches, but obviously we learned it and it makes it so much easier than the coaches having to tell us to do stuff, so we all just get it and we all know if you mess up then someone’s going to hold you accountable,” Armstrong said. “They won’t get mad at you, they’ll just say, ‘Turn the page, let’s play.’ We always keep our heads up, we don’t go into a shell, and so if something happens, we bounce back.”

Manny Calder, a sophomore, said they learned from Steve Palleschi to be confident in themselves, and it’s made a big difference. 

“Steve’s that guy for the job,” Manny Calder said. “He’s pounding the mental part of the game into us. I’d say that’s a big reason why we are confident, even if we are still young.”

MAXIMUM CHEMISTRY

Defeating the Lisbon Greyhounds was a huge milestone for this group of players at Monmouth. Armstrong said that Lisbon has beaten the Mustangs over and over, dating back to middle school. 

“It felt awesome,” Fletcher said. “They’ve been beating us every year in baseball, so it was great to finally get back at them.”

The bus rides to the game have been high points for players this season, and evidence of the team’s chemistry. The team also goes out for breakfast before every game, goes to the gym together everyday and the players spend a lot of time together. 

“The chemistry on this team is just crazy,” Fletcher said. “We’re pretty much like a family and we do everything together. It’s fun being around everyone and it’s definitely a good time.”

“The bus rides,” Armstrong added, “everybody’s up, listening to music, dancing and singing along, where other times guys would be in different areas and just not talking and things like that. I’ve never had a team this special and this close.”

Freshman pitcher Sam Calder, who is 6-0, said he quickly found his role on the team and was embraced early in the season.

“I just tried to do my job, do my part, try to help the team win any way I could,” Calder said. “It’s really good. We kind of just have a special bond. Cameron, me and him, we have been friends ever since I was a little one, so it wasn’t that hard getting to know everybody.”

“We are blessed with coachable athletes, extremely good teammates and they’re clicking on all cylinders,” Steve Palleschi said. “The bus rides are fun, even the bus rides home from losses are fun. They have insane chemistry, they get here half-an-hour before practice, they’re taking care of the field … These guys would die for each other.”

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