The typical path to a championship season in baseball features a reliance on pitching and defense.
Central Aroostook High School of Mars Hill has those qualities in good supply, but it’s also difficult to look past the Panthers’ offensive might as they prepare to play Richmond for the Class D state title at 3 p.m. today at Bangor’s Mansfield Stadium.
Coach Brent York’s club averaged 14.6 runs per game while compiling a 13-3 regular-season record — and that counts a forfeit loss in which it was credited with no runs scored.
“We’ve always hit the ball well from the beginning of the year,” said Panthers’ senior catcher Mitch Folsom. “Everyone hits the ball real well.”
And while the nature of postseason play suggests that runs will be more difficult to come by when the stakes are at their highest, that hasn’t been the case for the Panthers, who scored 39 runs in three Eastern Maine tournament victories, capped off by a 10-0, six-inning victory over defending state champ Deer Isle-Stonington in the final.
“Probably the hitting has been our strength,” said CAHS junior Logan McLaughlin, the Panthers’ likely starting pitcher in the state final. “But a lot of times it’s strong defense. We usually don’t make many errors, we hit up and down the order and we have three or four solid pitchers.”
“After we score some runs, we just plan on getting everyone fired up to play defense, and then we tack on some runs when we need them.”
Central Aroostook played errorless defense in its Eastern Maine final victory to back the four-hit pitching of Kasey Brewer, one of just five seniors on the Panthers’ roster.
Brewer credited the team’s success in part to the players’ experience in big-game situations, such as last fall’s Eastern D final in soccer — where the Panthers fell to eventual state champion Bangor Christian — and the school’s typical lengthy tournament runs in basketball.
“It makes a whale of a difference,” he said. “It just puts a little more experience under a lot of peoples’ belts. It makes a big difference playing in front of big crowds. You’re not as nervous before the game, the jitters are gone and you just go out and play ball.”
Central Aroostook’s rise to its first Eastern Maine baseball title since 2003 wasn’t all that unexpected, given that all but one player returned from the 2009 team that reached the semifinals before dropping a 5-4 decision to Shead of Eastport.
“Last year was really a letdown when we lost to Shead,” said McLaughlin. “We had the game but had some costly errors that kind of ruined it.
“This year we showed up with a burning fire inside that wanted to get back here again.”
And that motivation came not only from baseball frustration, but also a rare dose of basketball frustration last winter when the Panthers shot 8 of 40 from beyond the 3-point arc while dropping a 69-55 decision to Shead in the Eastern D quarterfinals.
“We’ve had a lot of experience in a lot of high-pressure situations in basketball, and we’re pretty good with that,” said McLaughlin. “But I think losing in the quarterfinals in basketball this year really got to us and we really wanted to make a statement this spring and show everyone that we’re not all about basketball.”
Basketball has been a common denominator for Richmond and Central Aroostook, which have met in two state championship games on the hardwood in the last five years.
Central Aroostook won both meetings, 79-55 in 2006 and then 54-53 in 2008 thanks to one of the more memorable shots in recent tourney history — a floater by 5-foot-7 guard Manny Martinez over 6-foot-10 Richmond center Marc Zaharchuk with eight-tenths of a second left in the game.
There’s nothing the Central Aroostook baseball team would like better than a similar result when it meets the Bobcats on the diamond Saturday.
“It’s awesome,” said Brewer after the EM final. “It was going to be great no matter what, we were thankful to get this far.
“But we didn’t want to just get this far, so we played our game and it’s turned out for the best.”