DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — As many Maine high school baseball teams scramble to find enough pitching depth to face the new season which begins in less than two weeks, Foxcroft Academy coach Mark Chevalier has few such worries.
All three of his team’s top starters are back this spring, just as they were back a year ago.
Seniors Ryan Rebar, Kaleb Smith and Jesse Provost comprise a pitching rotation whose experience may be unmatched in eastern Maine this year.
All are third-year starters on the mound for the Ponies, and the trio already has a combined 32-7 career record while helping Foxcroft advance to the 2011 Eastern Maine Class C final and win the 2012 Eastern Maine Class B championship.
“To not only have guys with that kind of experience but to also have three guys who all could be the ace of a lot of teams’ staffs is a luxury,” said Chevalier, whose team plays its season opener April 16 at Piscataquis of Guilford. “I know we have other guys who can pitch and challenge for spots in the bullpen, but what I love about Ryan, Kaleb and Jesse is the fact they’ve been in every type of situation. They know how to pitch no matter how many outs there are or how many runners are on base. They know what pitches to throw at what times, how to hold the runners on and all the other little things.
“It certainly makes my job easier, but it’s also great having them usher in the next new class of arms and serve as role models to the younger pitchers we have this year.”
And while those younger pitchers are concentrating on the basics, the veterans are adding to their repertoires by focusing on the subtleties of the position — generating more torque from their windups to add velocity to a fastball, or accentuating the differences in speed between the fastball and the complementary changeup, or preventing the runners who do get aboard from stealing bases.
“One of the things our coaches really emphasize is getting torque,” said Smith, who is 11-3 over the last two seasons and pitched a five-hitter in last June’s Class B state final, a 2-0 loss to Falmouth. “Any motion backwards also has to go forward, and the more we can get going forward the more velocity we can get.”
Rebar, 8-1 last spring and 12-2 overall with 115 strikeouts and a 0.75 ERA in 103 career innings, anchors the staff thanks in part to a fastball clocked in the mid-80s that defies his 5-foot-10-inch frame.
“Ryan is the power pitcher of the group. He throws very hard and has a sharp, 12-to-6 curveball,” said Chevalier. “He’s also exceptionally quick to the plate with guys on base. He’s very, very difficult to run against. I’d put his time to the plate up against most major leaguers.”
The high-kicking Smith has a 2.38 ERA in his first two varsity seasons, while Provost is 9-2 with a 2.74 ERA over the last two springs and occasionally sees duty out of the Foxcroft bullpen.
“Kaleb and Jesse pitch to contact more than Ryan, but both are capable of big strikeout totals, and I think both will strike out more batters this year as they develop their off-speed pitches,” said Chevalier.
While each of Foxcroft’s three aces have their unique qualities, all share a fundamental asset — accuracy. The trio has issued just 110 walks in 253 varsity innings pitched while helping the Ponies compile team ERAs of 1.96 in 2012 and 2.43 in 2011.
“They’re similar in that they all have good mechanics and repeatable deliveries and because of that they all throw a lot of strikes and we stress that, particularly first-pitch strikes,” said Chevalier. “None of them beats themselves with the walk very often, and they give us a quality start every time they go out there.”
The pitchers will be backed by a veteran lineup which also includes infielder Caleb Richard and outfielders Hunter Law and Cameron Fadley.
One change in the lineup will come at catcher, where senior Forrest Law is the likely starter after the graduation last spring of veteran Cody Coiley.
“It definitely will be a change for us, but we have confidence in Forrest to get the job done,” said Rebar. “Just getting repetitions with him during preseason will help us get to our comfort zone with him behind the plate.”
With most of its roster back from last year’s 15-6 team, Foxcroft has high expectations — expectations based in part on a pitching staff that less than 12 months ago advanced the Ponies within a single victory of a state title.
“We definitely have unfinished business and we definitely know what the goal is without being told,” said Rebar. “That being said, practices are always focused and we’re working hard and always doing things with a purpose, and hopefully that will get us a long way.”