The Calais Senior League baseball all-stars drew satisfaction just from competing in the U.S. East regional tournament last year.
There the team lost its first game 16-1 to a team from Vineland, N.J. — a loss ultimately considered not so sobering once that opponent went on to win the regional and advance to the Senior League World Series.
Calais nearly upset Danielson, Conn., in its second game before dropping a 2-1 decision, but that loss is just one reason for optimism as the Down East squad prepares for its second straight appearance in the U.S. East regional at West Deptford, N.J.
“That game against Connecticut showed us that we definitely could compete,” said pitcher-shortstop Adam Geel of Calais, one of six players back from last year’s team. “I think last year we just settled on making the tournament. This year we want to be more competitive down there.”
The Calais team, which fields players from four different high schools — Calais, Woodland, Shead of Eastport and Washington Academy of East Machias — earned its second straight trip to the regionals by sweeping through its District 1 tournament, then rebounding from an opening-game loss to Waldo County to win the double-elimination state tournament.
Calais rallied from its lone loss with three straight victories — including two one-run decisions over Waldo County in the championship round — to claim its title.
“I think all along they felt they were going to win,” said Calais coach Chris Johnson, whose team will play its U.S. East regional opener at 5 p.m. Friday against the Naamans Senior League All-Stars of Wilmington, Del.
“They really didn’t talk about it after that loss, but they came out loaded for bear the next game.”
That self-confidence stems not only from the returning players’ effort in last year’s regional, but also from success at the high school level and experience in the American Legion ranks.
Five players on the 12-man roster were part of Calais High School’s run to the 2010 Eastern Maine Class C championship this spring, and several competed at both the Senior League and American Legion levels this summer.
“Legion was a great test for us,” said Toby Woods, a pitcher-outfielder from Machiasport and Washington Academy. “It was unfortunate that we came up a little bit short [finishing 7-9, one game out of qualifying for the Zone 1 tournament], but playing at that level against some of the best competition around helped us a lot.”
Woods, a lefthander, and the righthanded Geel anchor what should be one of the strengths of the Calais Senior League All-Stars, their pitching. Tom Collins is the team’s third starter, while Ryan Lincoln, Nick Pineo and Jeremy Beers provide relief depth.
Woods, Geel and Billy Nicholas also anchor the Calais offense, along with catcher Dylan Carter. Other members of the team are Nick Barnes, Alex Currier, Logan Johnson and Ryan Johnson.
Beers, Carter, Collins, Geel, Lincoln and Nicholas all played on the 2009 state championship team.
“These kids all know the game, and defensively they’re very sound,” said coach Johnson. “They have a lot of confidence, too, but it’s not cockiness.
“I’ve been working with kids in this age group my entire career through education and as a coach, and this is the finest group of young men I’ve ever had the chance to work with.”