The Maine Principals’ Association reclassifies teams in the high school sports it sanctions every two years, and the schools most affected typically are those on the enrollment cutoff fringes.
In many cases, a school shifted from a larger-school class to a smaller-school class immediately becomes more successful given its newfound status as one of the bigger schools in that new class.
The opposite also can be true, with schools moved up a class enduring some initial struggles.
The Foxcroft Academy baseball team has defied that latter trend, winning the Eastern Maine Class B championship this week just one year after reaching the regional final in Class C.
“I told the kids before the season that I was excited for the challenge of playing in Class B and that they should be, too,” said second-year Foxcroft coach Mark Chevalier, whose 15-5 Ponies will play 16-3 Falmouth for the state title at 11 a.m. Saturday at Bangor’s Mansfield Stadium.
“We knew that game in and game out it was going to be tougher but that our overall goals didn’t change and we knew we had the talent to compete for an Eastern Maine or state title. We knew it would be difficult but we’ve really had the drive to be successful from Day One of practice to now.”
The Foxcroft-Falmouth clash will be followed at Mansfield by the 3 p.m. Class D showdown between Bangor Christian and Buckfield. State finals at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish have Messalonskee of Oakland facing Scarborough in Class A at noon and the Class C final between Calais and Dirigo of Dixfield at 4 p.m..
Foxcroft (15-5) went undefeated last spring until falling to Calais in the Eastern C final but returned a nucleus that included junior pitchers Ryan Rebar, Kaleb Smith and Jesse Provost and Cody Coiley, a third-year starter at catcher and just one of two seniors on the roster.
Still, there was an acknowledgement that Class B competition would be stiffer, as Foxcroft with its enrollment of approximately 450 would now face schools with as many as 724 students.
“We just wanted to go out and play baseball,” said Rebar. “We knew what we were capable of going into the season. We knew it was going to be a challenge but we stuck with it, believed in our coaches and worked hard all off-season and during the season.”
That optimism was tested in early May when the Ponies lost three consecutive games to fall to .500.
“Hermon had just beat us and after that game they had a fan who said to me, ‘What’s your record now?” said Chevalier. “I said 4-4 and he looked surprised and said ‘Well, you’re not going to lose too many more, you guys are good.’
“I thought that was nice of him to say, but it turns out he was right.”
Foxcroft has won 11 of its 12 games since then and takes a nine-game winning streak into its first state final since 2002.
Among those victories were extra-inning survivals of Ellsworth in the preliminary round of the playoffs at Mount Desert Island in the quarterfinals. The Ponies trailed in both games before rallying to force extra innings and then winning in the bottom of the eighth.
“The first two playoff games say everything about what we are as a team,” said Rebar. “I have a lot of faith in this team going into Saturday.”
The Class C final involves the same protagonists as in 2010, when Dirigo edged Calais 4-2.
Coach Kenny Murphy’s Calais club, which topped Dexter 4-0 in Tuesday’s Eastern Maine final, will be playing in its third consecutive state final in search of its first state championship since 1976.
Both finalists are 18-1, with Dirigo riding an 18-game winning streak since dropping its season opener.
Dirigo features senior Ben Holmes, a Mr. Baseball finalist who is 11-1 on the mound this spring and has not allowed an earned run in his last 29 innings. Calais is led by senior Adam Geel, 10-0 with seven shutouts and a .580 hitter during the regular season.
In Class D, Bangor Christian (18-2) seeks its first state baseball crown with a roster steeped in championship tradition, as the Patriots have won the last three Class D boys soccer state titles.
Junior Ben Bragg, who already has two postseason wins for coach Mike Poulin’s club, will get the pitching start against a 17-1 Buckfield team also seeking its first state championship.
The Class A final matches teams trying to win their first state title in this class, though Messalonskee won the Class B crown in 1973 and Scarborough was the 1986 Class B state champion.
Each team boasts a Mr. Baseball finalist, Sam Dexter of 14-5 Messalonskee and Ben Wessel of 17-2 Scarborough.