The consensus among Zone 1 American Legion coaches comes down to one simple word: competition. In seasons past, perennial league favorites Bangor and Brewer have stolen the spotlight, but that may be changing with regular season play opening up this past weekend.
Each team in the zone had a fair amount of representation during the high school season, which Brewer coach Chris Morris feels makes this season different from those past seasons.
“I really think that day in and day out there is going to be a lot of tough competition here,” said Morris. “I think it’s going to be one of the better summers here out of the last three or four with all the depth through the zone.”
Brewer, the reigning zone champion, fell a game short of making it to the state championship last year. Morris’ club will be led by a trio of Husson University Eagles in Kyle McLain, Evan Eldridge and Tyler French, and catcher Nick Moore.
“[Moore] was really the key to us having a successful year last year,” Morris said, noting Moore’s defense as the biggest contribution. “He was really the rock behind the plate for us.”
While the top of the league again looks deep, the second-tier teams are gaining ground.
“I think there is going to be more parity one through seven this year than any other year,” Northern Lumber coach Brandon Portwine said. “The bottom half of the league is going to be very tough.”
Northern Lumber, formerly Lincoln Lumber, is one of those teams poised to make a run to the top of the standings and get back to the zone tournament. They finished 10-11 in the regular season and were ousted early from the zone tournament, but Portwine sees promise in his team.
“We have some solid pitching with four players returning from our team last year and a group of new kids from a bunch of different schools,” he said.
Part of that returning core will be Mr. Maine Baseball finalist Dustin Sawtelle of Lee Academy, who will anchor the pitching staff and contribute in the heart of the order for the club.
The competitive nature of the league this year comes from the developed pitching and depth that each club has off the mound.
“It’s all going to come down to who has the pitching depth this year,” first-year Motor City coach Jason Coleman said. “I don’t expect a lot of blowout wins by any means.”
Coleman has that depth with the likes of Orono’s Tyler Eddy and Old Town’s Cam Archer atop his staff, with the offense being paced by All-Zone selection Sean O’Donnell. The offense will come and go, but Coleman believes his team’s defense will be a constant throughout.
“We’re pretty deep defensively and solid everywhere on the field,” he said.
Hampden coach Nick Arthers is hoping for a similar season to last year, which gave Hampden the three seed in the zone tourney.
“We want to get back to where we were at the end of last season,” said Arthers. “We had a lot of guys that were hitting the ball real well and the pitching was very consistent.”
Hampden will have Hampden Academy third baseman and pitcher Matt Palmer back after leading the team in home runs last year and Hermon catcher Kevin Frederick, who Arthers believes will take his game to a new level after seeing him in high school games and practices thus far.
The tough task Hampden faces is having a youthful team that will need to get acclimated on the fly.
“We’ve got a lot of younger kids kids that aren’t very experienced at the legion level,” said Arthers. “They’re willing to get better though, and I think they will help us out a lot.”
Dave Morris and his Bangor club also face a youth movement, but Morris believes his team has an advantage with integrating youth.
“We only pull from one school, so the kids know each other and have played with each other for years,” said Morris.
Morris has a slew of JV pitchers and outfielders who have promise, but it’s a matter of getting them playing time so they can get comfortable
“Just getting kids some playing time and letting them gather that experience,” he said. “They will make some mistakes, but they will also have their successes.”
To go with the young nucleus, Bangor returns top pitchers Curtis Worcester and Greg Duff and have Christian Corneil and Dylan Morris on offense.
The key to Bangor’s season will lie in the players’ work ethic, something Morris believes is a great strength.
“They’re great kids who love baseball and you can’t replace those intangibles,” he said. “They really have a great deal of pride that assures the expectations that they want to achieve something at a higher level.”
The Zone 1 tourney will be held July 23-26 at Husson University in Bangor while the state tourney is set for Aug. 1-5 at Old Orchard Beach.