Close encounters spark MDI baseball team

Posted May 10, 2011, at 4:57 p.m.
Last modified May 10, 2011, at 7:35 p.m.

It was a victory unlike most others for the Mount Desert High School baseball team this spring.

The Trojans’ 7-1 win over Ellsworth on Saturday afternoon, which extended their winning streak to six games heading into Wednesday’s clash with Hermon, included a rare bit of breathing room.

Four of MDI’s previous six victories — as well as one of its two losses — came in the game’s final at-bat, making for exciting times on the island but also for plenty of nervous moments.

“We lost to Bucksport in the bottom of the seventh inning, beat George Stevens with two outs in bottom of seventh, beat Presque in bottom of the eighth, beat Old Town in the bottom of the seventh, and beat Bucksport last Friday in the bottom of the seventh,” said Trojans’ head coach Mike Swanson, whose team’s win at Ellsworth vaulted 7-2 MDI into second place in the Eastern Maine Class B standings.

“The kids are resilient, they never give up, that’s for sure. For a while I thought they just wanted to see what kind of challenge they could overcome, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I thought, ‘Why don’t we just get ahead of somebody for a change and see if we can play the other way,’ so it was nice when we were able to manufacture some runs [Saturday].”

The narrow victories have provided a benefit in addition to the Heal points they generate.

“The biggest thing is that the close games really help us confidence-wise,” said senior first baseman Kyle McKim. “As of late we’ve been struggling with getting timely hits and hits in a row, but once we got going [Saturday], we hit the ground running.”

MDI’s recipe for success through the first half of its regular-season schedule has featured balance — solid pitching and defense and timely hitting.

“We didn’t lose a lot of seniors last year, so we’re relying on our experience,” said junior outfielder Caleb MacDonald.

Junior shortstop and leadoff batter Nick Shaw (.379, 10 RBI, 10-10 in stolen-base attempts) and MacDonald, the No. 2 hitter currently batting .370, pace the Trojans’ offense, but Swanson said the current winning streak is starting to bring out the best in hitters further down the lineup card.

“We’re starting to get some timely hitting,” he said. We manufacturing some runs, and we’re doing the little things up and down the lineup that add up in close games.”

MDI also has improved its defense in recent games, committing just one error in back-to-back wins over top-ranked Bucksport and 5-2 Ellsworth last weekend.

“In a couple of our losses we made untimely errors and teams took advantage,” said Swanson. “We’ve started to do that to other teams now and that’s made a big difference.”

One reason for that improved defense is the work at shortstop of Shaw, one of the team captains along with McKim and MacFarland. Shaw handled eight ground balls without incident against Ellsworth.

“We’ve been good on defense,” said Shaw. “Personally I’ve struggled a little bit, but I’m getting my confidence up and making plays.”

Righthanders Dennis O’Neil (2-2) and Ben Walls (2-0) anchor the MDI pitching staff, making the Trojans one of several teams in the Penobscot Valley Conference Class B ranks with two reliable starters.

“Every game our starter has pitched well,” said Swanson, “and now we’re making the routine plays behind them, we’re making good plays, we’re getting the execution we need.”

MDI, which has played two more games than any other team in Eastern B entering this week, is scheduled for a week off after Wednesday’s game against Hermon in Bar Harbor.

And rather than worry about any lost momentum during that respite, the Trojans are looking forward to preparing for the final two weeks of the regular season and the playoffs that loom beyond.

“I think it’s going to be good for us,” said Swanson. “Kids can rest up, and we’re going to bring a couple of grammar school teams and do a practice with them. We’ve got a couple of kids banged up so I think it will be really good for us, and then we’ll have our stretch run of six games.”

Where that stretch run ultimately leads is unknown in what has played out to be a balanced PVC race.

“Our Eastern B is wide open, and to me it’s all about matchups and on any given night anyone can win,” said Swanson. “It’s really going to be a battle. When you get to the playoffs, seedings aren’t going to mean a lot.

“But I think we can make a run at the end. Like several other teams, we’ve got some key pieces in place.”

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