So much of success in competitive sports stems from athletes first recognizing an opportunity and then striving to make the most of it.
But such opportunities had been hard to come by for Cody Johndro, Derek Amoroso and Jordan Richards – until last weekend.
That’s when the trio, all from Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, played key roles in helping Hampden win the American Legion baseball Zone 1 championship.
It was a new Legion experience for all of the Riverdogs, who won the first title in the program’s five-year history with players from Hampden Academy and Nokomis.
The Hampden players on the team had faced postseason pressure before – as recently as this spring when Hampden Academy advanced to the Eastern Maine Class A final.
For the Nokomis players on the roster, this has been a foray into uncharted territory.
Playing for one of the smaller high school teams in Eastern Maine Class A, they have absorbed major-league lumps on the diamond in recent years.
Nokomis went 2-16 this spring, and hasn’t had a winning season since a 9-7 finish in 2000. Since then the Warriors have gone 17-111 overall, including 4-60 over the last four years.
And no success was guaranteed this summer either, especially when the Riverdogs were 7-9 with less than a week left in the regular season after a frustrating loss at Calais. Hampden was in danger of missing the Legion playoffs altogether, to think nothing about making an extended postseason run.
But Amoroso pitched the Riverdogs past regular-season champion Brewer the next night, and the momentary confidence derived from that win soon became unstoppable momentum.
“We were kind of down after the Calais game,” said Amoroso. “We weren’t playing very well, but then we made a decision to go out and start playing better baseball, and we did.”
The Riverdogs went 4-1 in last weekend’s double-elimination Zone 1 tournament to win the event after qualifying for the six-team field as the No. 5 seed.
They are now 8-1 overall since that loss at Calais, and in running off that streak have evolved from darkhorses to champions – Nokomis players included.
“I’ve got to say, all of us from Hampden are wicked excited about all of this that’s going on,” said Hampden second baseman Nolan Turner, “but the Nokomis guys are probably like the steam that drives the engine because they are more excited than anyone.”
“It’s unbelievable,” added Johndro, a recent Nokomis graduate who starts at shortstop for the Riverdogs. “I’ve never been in anything like this since Little League, you have so much adrenaline going through your body. Just to be in this atmosphere is amazing.”
No matter how Hampden fares in the state tourney that begins Saturday, this summer already has been both productive and enlightening for the Riverdogs, particularly the contingent of kids from Nokomis who are just getting used to this winning feeling – and liking it.
“Before the [zone] tournament a couple of the guys were like, “Geez, this is the first playoff game I’ve ever played in,” said Hampden Legion coach Jason Folsom. “But that [Nokomis] program is not far away. Their coach, Jared Foster, is doing a great job there, and these kids have learned a lot over the past year just having him as a head coach. With that and the success they’ve had this summer, I can’t imagine what it will be like for them the next couple of years.”