Aware of the value of experience in postseason sports settings, Eben Powers never imagined his final act as a high school student-athlete would be to play in the Class D baseball state championship game Saturday.
Not because he wasn’t aware of his school’s recent baseball tradition — Deer Isle-Stonington won state championships in both 2005 and 2007, the second title coming during Powers’ sophomore season.
But those were teams with at least a decent nucleus of senior leadership.
This year, Powers is all the senior leadership there is on the Mariners’ 15-player roster that faces Richmond in the state final at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish at noon.
“I didn’t think we’d get this far,” said Powers after his team outlasted Shead of Eastport 9-7 in 10 innings Tuesday night to win the Eastern D title. “There were always some older guys on the other teams, but this team is really young.”
Coach Darren Eaton’s roster includes six juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen. Three of those first-year players, catcher Jake Starkey, first baseman Nick Trundy and pitcher-third baseman Joe Condon, started in the EM final.
“Other than Eben and Evan [Rollins, a junior pitcher and shortstop], these kids have never seen postseason, but they’ve handled themselves pretty well,” said Eaton. “They’re not getting caught up in the emotion, and for the most part they’re not shooting themselves in the foot.”
Relying on young players is nothing new for the Mariners. Deer Isle-Stonington defeated North Yarmouth Academy 3-2 in the 2005 state final behind the pitching of Collin Ciomei — a freshman.
“I’ve been blessed to have Scott Seile as my assistant coach,” said Eaton. “He and I have been doing this for about 13 year, and we see these kids at the lower levels and we talk to them and let them know what they need to do to get better.”
Powers, 5-1 with a 1.41 earned run average this spring, is expected to get the pitching start against Richmond.
The righthander, bound for Husson University in the fall to play basketball, has been idle since throwing a three-hitter as the Mariners eliminated 2008 EM champion Katahdin of Stacyville in the regional semifinals last Saturday.
Not that much older than the Mariners are their championship neighbors from George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill, who will try to win their first Class C state title since earning back-to-back crowns in 2003 and 2004 when they face Saint Dominic of Auburn on Saturday.
Game time is 2 p.m. at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor.
Coach Dan Kane’s Eagles field just four seniors, but from that quartet of Peter Dickinson, Nick Saunders, Nate Hines and Justin McGraw has come plenty of leadership both on and off the field.
Dickinson has been the pitching ace, his 9-1 record highlighted by a five-inning no-hitter against Madawaska in the Eastern C semifinals followed by an eight-inning two-hitter in a 1-0 win over Orono Wednesday in the regional final.
Dickinson struck out 17 batters and walked one in the win over Orono and scored the winning run on a triple and an error in the bottom of the eighth.
Saunders shares shortstop duties with Dickinson and has emerged as the team’s No. 2 pitcher. The righthander likely will get the pitching start against Saint Dominic as Dickinson is ineligible with just two days of rest since his eight-inning performance.
Hines has been nagged by hamstring problems throughout the spring, but he and McGraw both have played first base and served as the team’s designated hitter.
GSA also has benefited from the contributions of a 10-member sophomore class. Five of those youngsters started in the Eastern Maine championship game: center fielder Cameron Lawson, third baseman Jesse Dow, second baseman Nick Kane, catcher Josh Gale and right fielder Sam Eley.
“The seniors have a ton of experience,” said Kane, “but the sophomores have been guys I’ve been working with. I’ve coached them in Junior League for a couple of years and in Senior League for one year.
“It’s a good core group and they’ve been fun to work with, and they’ve showed steady, constant improvement all year long.”
GSA will face a familiar state final opponent in Saint Dominic. GSA defeated the Western champs 12-2 in their 2004 matchup, but lost to the Saints 2-1 in 2005.
Saint Dominic’s most recent state title came two years ago, when coach Bob Blackman’s club defeated Searsport 7-3 in 10 innings.
“They’re a very competitive team,” said Kane. “They’re well-coached, a good ball club.”