OLD TOWN, Maine — The current crop of baseball-playing seniors at Old Town High School helped lead the community’s Senior League all-star team to the semifinals of the 2015 Senior League World Series.
That group also has won 36 of 38 games at the high school level during the last two seasons and last spring captured the Coyotes’ first regional title in the sport since 1993 and first baseball state championship in school history.
With nine seniors back for one final run together before graduation, there’s significant motivation to maintain that status not only for the team’s sake, but for the benefit of those who have followed their championship pursuits.
“Last year, we went out with a big bang,” Old Town senior pitcher-third baseman Ethan Stoddard said, “and we just want to bring everything back to this community again because they’ve definitely supported us all four years in all the sports.”
It’s a different motivation than what drove the top-seeded Coyotes to a 19-1 record last spring in a historic season capped off by a 2-0 survival of Hermon in the Class B North championship and a 12-2, five-inning conquest of Freeport in the state final.
In that case Old Town was coming off an 2015 campaign that ended prematurely, with the undefeated and top-ranked Coyotes upset by Winslow in the regional semifinals after that year’s Mr. Baseball, pitcher-shortstop Eric Hoogterp, was injured and unable to pitch in that game.
“Last year, we were coming off a loss in the playoffs to Winslow and were really dedicated to get back and get better,” Stoddard said. “This year after winning the state championship we maybe weren’t as productive as we were last year so we’ve definitely got to get back to that.”
That’s not to say the Coyotes spent the entire offseason celebrating.
“They put the work in, they work really hard,” fifth-year Old Town head coach Brad Goody said. “A lot of them can be found in the weight room at the YMCA before school, a lot of them are in here before practice putting in extra work. It’s not anything new for them to put a little extra in.
“[The key is] just staying focused and not playing down to the teams we’re playing. We’ve got a lot of talent so if we bring it every day we should be able to put some wins together.”
Old Town graduated only four seniors from the 2016 squad, but losing pitchers Kaleb Gifford, Drew Coulombe and Dana Ouellette — who was sidelined most of the season with an ankle injury — this year’s Coyotes will be tasked with replenishing their depth on the mound.
Stoddard, who pitched a five-hitter in last year’s state game, steps into the No. 1 starter’s role. Senior left-hander Austin Sheehan and sophomore Brenden Gasaway — who helped goaltend the Old Town-Orono cooperative ice hockey team to the Class B North final last winter — also are expected to play key roles.
“We lost a good amount of pitching last year but our roster is pretty deep,” senior catcher Cole Daniel said. “We should be in pretty good shape for the season.”
The Coyotes will fill seven of their nine spots in the batting order with returning veterans, including Daniel, Stoddard and senior shortstop Ryan Hoogterp.
Other offensive catalysts should include pitcher-first baseman Sheehan, senior center fielder T.J. Crawford and senior left fielder Jake Ketch.
“We definitely have to focus on our defense a little more because we lost key defensive players,” Stoddard said. “I think our offense is a lot better than what it was last year, but definitely defense and pitching will be big.”
Old Town expects its challengers in Class B North this year to include Penobscot Valley Conference rivals Hermon, Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor and Ellsworth.
“Obviously the prize is to be there again,” Goody said, “but we’re just looking forward to April 18 and our first game at Orono.”