HAMPDEN, Maine — There’s nothing like a fourth-year starter to help focus the excitement of an otherwise youthful baseball team.
For the Hampden Academy baseball team, that elder statesman is senior shortstop Nolan Turner, who has been penciled into the Broncos’ starting lineup ever since he stepped onto Bordick Park as a freshman.
The three-sport standout — Turner also has starred on the football field and basketball court for Hampden — has batted over .400 in each of his three previous seasons on the baseball team.
But the intangibles he provides may play an even bigger role this spring for a Hampden team seeking to rebound from last year’s 5-12 finish and earn another trip to the Eastern Maine Class A playoffs.
“Nolan Turner is a born leader,” said Hampden baseball coach McLean Poulin. “Guys look up to him because they know what he’s done since he’s been here. They know his work ethic.”
Another veteran presence for the Broncos is junior catcher Cody Miller, who like Turner has started since playing third base as a freshman. Miller moved to catcher last spring, and will be counted on not only as a key part of the offense in the middle of the batting order, but in helping to mold an inexperienced pitching staff.
“We’ll look to Cody for leadership,” said Poulin.
Other upperclassmen who figure to play key roles for the Broncos include senior outfielders Alex Cust and Justin Rodgerson and senior pitcher-infielder Ryan Blake.
Among promising newcomers expected to contribute is versatile freshman Cooper Antone, who during early preseason games has seen time at second base, third base, catcher and left field.
But Hampden’s ultimate fortunes likely will come down to pitching, particularly the development of a staff whose top two prospects have a combined eight innings of varsity experience.
Junior righthander Connor Perry hopes to build on the solid experience he gained last summer at the American Legion level, Poulin said. Another top contender for the Broncos’ rotation is hard-throwing 6-foot-7, 290-pound sophomore righthander Fred Knight.
Blake also may see some spot pitching duty, but Hampden is using a heavy preseason schedule to give several younger pitchers a chance to test themselves at the varsity level before the Broncos open their season at home Wednesday against Lawrence of Fairfield.
“We’ve got just one senior pitcher, all the rest are underclassmen,” said Poulin. “That bodes well for the future, but right now it’s an unknown.
“That’s why we scheduled a lot of doubleheaders during the preseason, to give our younger pitchers and younger players a lot of looks.”
Hampden, which finished 10th in the final Eastern A Heal points last season, hopes the leadership of Turner and Miller and the growth of the younger players on the roster will lead the Broncos into contention for a playoff berth.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Poulin, who ranks Bangor and defending regional champion Cony of Augusta among the favorites in Eastern A this spring. “We’re going to have to come ready to play every single night, but if a couple of our younger pitchers step up our goal is to be in the fight for one of those last few playoff spots.”