GREENVILLE — Perhaps no high school baseball team in the state felt more of a need to reach a regional final this spring than the Greenville Lakers.
That the school had not won an Eastern or Western Maine championship in any boys sport since 1995 probably would have been reason enough, but the stunning nature of the team’s 2-1 loss to Richmond in last year’s Western D final — when the Bobcats scored two runs on a single suicide squeeze bunt in the bottom of the seventh inning — was as tough a way to lose a game as most teenagers or adults could imagine.
“It was really devastating because we were up 1-0 the entire game,” said Greenville senior third-baseman Anthony DiAngelo. “We were all shocked by the play, but it was a good play by them, good baserunning, and so we’ve used that as a motivator this year.”
That motivation, as well as a veteran returning cast of players, has helped the Lakers get past that disappointment, with Greenville’s 2-0 victory over Rangeley on Tuesday night giving the program its first regional title in baseball since its last state championship season in 1990.
“The last thing I remember about last year was runners on second and third and a kid lays down a bunt,” said senior first baseman Kevin Stafford. “I just remember throwing the ball home, watching the kid slide in safe just underneath it, and the disappointment of being so close, being one out away from putting away a Western Maine championship and falling like that after holding the lead all the way.
“We had this plan all year to go back and prove what we should have done last year this year. I feel like we’ve done that pretty well.”
Greenville (14-2) will get a chance to add to its breakthrough season Saturday when it faces Eastern D champion Katahdin of Stacyville (14-3) for the state title. Game time is noon at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.
“Coming into this year we had one goal and that was to win a Western Maine championship,” said third-year Greenville coach Tyler Muzzy. “We’ve felt that pressure all year, but we also felt that this could be our year. Going into Saturday’s game we’ll still be focused, but now we have that monkey off our back. We’re going to go in relaxed but focused, and whatever happens we’ll walk away with our heads held high.”
Top-seeded Greenville emerged from the sparsely populated — seven-team — Western D ranks with a 14-1 semifinal victory over Forest Hills of Jackman preceding its title-game win over Rangeley.
Senior lefthander Jeremy St. Louis (6-0) pitched a two-hitter against Rangeley, and he’ll also get the start against Katahdin.
“It’s very exciting,” said St. Louis. “I’m just happy I get to go out on the mound and try to bring (the championship) back to Greenville for everybody.”
St. Louis relies primarily on his fastball, as well as a defense that everyone within the program describes as pivotal to the team’s success.
“Jeremy’s done a great job of stepping up and being our ace this year,” said Stafford. “We have our best defensive lineup out there when he’s on the mound, and everyone’s confident when he’s pitching. We know he’s going to throw strikes and get people to hit ground balls, and our defense behind him has been solid.”
Stafford, DiAngelo, second baseman Steve Bilodeau and shortstop Shawn Mills comprise the Greenville infield, with Matt DiAngelo — Anthony’s freshman brother — Tristan Richards and Howie Stone in the outfield and Bryce Breton catching.
The Lakers may get an additional boost Saturday from junior outfielder Chris Munro, a transfer from South Carolina who had 21 RBIs in Greenville’s first six games before being sidelined with a broken jaw suffered when he absorbed a line drive to the face while pitching batting practice.
Munro returned to practice Thursday for the first time since being injured armed with a specially designed helmet, and he hopes to play against Katahdin.
“We lost one of our top hitters and one of our best fielders when Chris got hurt, but other people stepped up to answer the call,” said Muzzy. “We’ll see what he gives us the next two days, but if he’s ready he’ll be starting in the outfield and it will just make our team that much deeper.”
With 17 players on the roster — more than a third of the 48 boys in the school — Muzzy said Greenville has a significant emotional investment in this team.
“The whole town is behind us, there’s a great sense of community about this,” said Muzzy, a Greenville native. “You see signs when you come into town, and it says a lot when you win a Western Maine title and you get back home at 1:30 in the morning and there are three fire trucks, a police car and about 10 other vehicles escorting you into town when usually nobody’s up.
“People here still talk about the 1990 championship, and I’ve told these guys the line from the ‘Miracle’ movie that ‘great moments are born from great opportunities.’ Now they’ve put themselves in position to make something great happen for this town.”