A year ago, the Central Aroostook of Mars Hill baseball team used motivation stemming from postseason frustration in other sports to fuel a run to the Eastern Maine Class D championship.
This spring, despite snow still covering their home field, the Panthers hope to use the adrenaline lingering from a state-championship basketball season as fuel for another successful season on the diamond.
There’s reason for optimism. While coach Brent York’s club did suffer some significant graduation losses from last year’s 16-4 team that defeated Deer Isle-Stonington 10-0 in the regional final, an experienced nucleus returns to blend with some developing younger players.
Perhaps the major question surrounding the squad with still two weeks remaining before its scheduled April 26 season opener against Madawaska concerns the health of pitcher Logan McLaughlin, who underwent laparoscopic surgery on March 14 to repair a bulging disc in his back.
He’s currently undergoing physical therapy, but is on a timetable to be ready to help the Panthers early in the season.
“He’s going to start throwing next week,” said York, “and he said by the first of May he’ll be able to do what his body lets him do for us.”
McLaughlin, a senior, will team with juniors Dan Brewer and Brendan York to give Central Aroostook a veteran pitching staff, with coach York working to establish even greater depth to cope with the inevitably condensed schedule that comes with weather-related postponements.
“We’ve got three of our better pitchers back, but pitching is always going to be the key for us,” said coach York. “If Logan can come back strong that will help, and the same goes for Dan and Brendan, who both did well last year. We’ve also got three or four other kids who can pitch, and we’ll be looking to get them going.”
Dan Brewer also will see some of the catching duty as Central Aroostook seeks to replace the graduated Mitch Folsom, a three-year starter behind the plate.
The Panthers should remain among the top hitting teams in the division after averaging 14.6 runs per game during the 2010 regular season, with McLaughlin, York, Brewer, first baseman Mike McClung and Derek Rusby — who had three hits in Central Aroostook’s 7-4 loss to Richmond in last spring’s state final — among the top offensive threats.
“[Assistant coach] Butch Richardson is working a lot with the hitters,” coach York said. “They’re spending a lot of time in the cage right now.”
Twins Darrin and Dylan Murray and Steven Decker also should be key contributors for the Panthers, whose ambitions remain high this spring despite likely challenges within Eastern D from the likes of Katahdin of Stacyville and Deer Isle-Stonington.
“The kids were really disappointed with how the state championship game turned out,” said coach York. “They know they can do it, they’ve learned a lot from the last time, and they’d like to get back there.”
Dates to remember
The first countable games of the high school baseball and softball regular season may be played as of 3 p.m. Thursday, but the remaining snow on the ground in northern areas or wet conditions in the aftermath of the melting prevents that from being a realistic date for most Eastern Maine schools.
There is at least one exception in Eastern Maine, the annual season-opening clash of Down East rivals Calais and Washington Academy to be held at 4 p.m. Friday in East Machias.
Many teams will get their seasons under way next week during April vacation, including the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A ranks. Baseball season openers in that division are set for April 20, including Brewer at Hampden Academy at noon and Lawrence of Fairfield at Bangor at 1 p.m.
Brewer then is scheduled to host Bangor on April 22 at 1 p.m.
The last date for final countable games of the baseball regular season is June 1, with preliminary-round games to follow June 7. Regional quarterfinals are set for June 9 and semifinals on June 11, leading up to Eastern Maine championship games on June 14 and June 15.
Tentative schedules call for the Eastern B and D finals to be held at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor on June 14, with the Class B game at 3 p.m. and the Class D game at 7 p.m.
EM championship games in Classes A and C will be played June 15, with the Class A game at 5 p.m. at Morton Field in Augusta and the Class C game at 7 p.m. at Mansfield.
State championship games in all divisions are slated for June 18.
The Class A game will be played at 2 p.m. in Augusta, with the Class C game at the same time in Bangor.
State finals in Classes B and D will be played at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, with the Class D game at noon and the Class B game at 4 p.m.