Few people noticed when the Wisdom baseball team started its spring with four consecutive losses, then was 1-5 nearly halfway through its schedule.
After all, the Pioneers went just 3-11 in 2008 — that coming after a 2007 season when the school of approximately 95 students from Saint Agatha and Frenchville didn’t even field a team due to a lack of players.
But people in northernmost Maine are noticing Wisdom baseball now, as the team closed out its regular season with eight consecutive victories to finish sixth in Eastern Maine Class D and earn its first home playoff game in a decade.
The Pioneers host No. 11 Woodland Tuesday at 2 p.m. in one of 30 preliminary-round baseball and softball games to be played around the region.
“As a coach I teach a little about baseball, but it also gives me a chance to teach a little about self-esteem,” said second-year Wisdom coach Charles Collin. “When you go out to play a game you always have a chance no matter who you’re playing.”
Given the program’s recent history, self-esteem may have been the major ingredient in getting the Pioneers over the competitive top this spring.
Wisdom flourished on the baseball diamond in the mid- and late 1990s, winning the 1996 Eastern D championship and most recently playing in the regional final in 1999.
But the current decade has been a struggle. Since finishing 5-8 in 2001, the Pioneers were just 10-70 entering this season.
Collin, a veteran youth league and middle school coach, took over the program after its one-year hiatus, increasing the number of participants while working to improve the skill level and instill confidence among players who had experienced success at the youth level but had yet to see the high school team thrive.
“Going into this season I had pretty high expectations for our kids,” said Collin, a former self-employed contractor who now teaches construction trades at the St. John Valley Technical Center.
“Last year we worked on the basics and got the kids acclimated to high school baseball, and we came on pretty strong late in the season.”
This spring’s slow start was resolved in part by shifting several players to new positions, resulting in a lineup that includes the team’s three seniors: first baseman Kurtis Daigle, catcher Curtis Collin (the coach’s son) and third baseman Alex Michaud.
Other key players are pitcher-infielders Curtis Picard and Kody Chamberland, shortstop Dustin Guerrette, outfielders Kyle Daigle, Rocky Chamberland, Brandon Lavoie and Andrew Melenica, and pitcher Corey Paradis.
“It’s been a little bit of coaching, but a lot of team effort,” said coach Collin of his team’s recent run. “The kids have been on fire, they want to do well and they’re hungry to win.”
At no time was that more evident than in the team’s final regular-season game, when the Pioneers trekked to Mars Hill to face a Central Aroostook team that entered the contest riding a 14-game winning streak.
“There must have been 150 cars in the parking lot there,” said Collin. “It seemed like they had about 300 people there against the 14 of us, it was pretty intimidating.”
But Picard frustrated the Panthers from the mound, inducing 13 flyouts, and the Pioneers scored the winning run in the top of the seventh en route to a 6-5 win that went a long way toward carrying them to their first home playoff game since Wisdom defeated Deer Isle-Stonington 7-3 in an Eastern D semifinal on June 6, 1999.
“When Curtis [Collin] caught that last popup about a foot and a half from their dugout, it was cool,” said coach Collin, a Saint Agatha native. “It was loud, loud, loud, out there, but then we shook their hands, we thanked the good Lord for the day, and after that it took about an hour for the boys to calm down to get on the bus.”
Wisdom (9-5) has had nearly a week since that victory to regroup for its playoff game against a Woodland team that enters postseason play with a 6-10 record.
Seedings and this season’s records suggest the Pioneers should be the favorite, but the team prefers to approach the game from its traditional perspective.
“Wisdom has been the underdog for a long time,” said Collin. “We’re No. 6 and they’re No. 11, but you can’t take anything for granted. It’s anybody’s game, so we’ve just got to go out there strong and play our game.”