It was the type of sun-splashed afternoon any baseball team relishes, but like most high school baseball squads in Eastern Maine, the Brewer Witches went about their preseason paces in the gymnasium.
Nearby Heddericg Field already is clear of snow but remains wet, though if Mother Nature proves benevolent coach Dave Morris’ reigning Class A regional champions could be on their home diamond next week.
In the meantime, the opening week of full practices offers teams throughout the region the chance to break down the game into its many individual facets.
“We definitely go back to the basics,” said Brewer senior shortstop Coby Hutchins. “No matter who you are, you’re working on the fundamentals. It’s a good time in here to get back to that, because none of us have played since last fall or last summer.”
Tuesday’s indoor tryout/practice included many drills worked without the use of the baseball, part of a system developed over the years to cope with the inevitability of using a confined area instead of a vast field.
“The advantage that we have being in the north is that we’re able to take the time to really be able to focus on the fundamentals,” said Morris. “If you get outside right away, everyone gets anxious because you want to play and the fundamentals take a back seat.
“But being in here for a week and a half or so we really just focus on the fundamentals, fielding the baseball properly, throwing the ball properly, and when you really think about the game of baseball, that’s probably where’s the game won or lost, on throws and catches. We just try to take advantage of this time we have to focus on the fundamentals.”
The Witches hope to open their preseason schedule next Thursday at Cony of Augusta, another team expected to contend for the Eastern A crown this spring.
Brewer is coming off a 17-3 season that produced its first regional title in 20 years before the Witches fell to Deering of Portland 8-7 in eight innings in the state championship game.
“We’re just trying to build on last year,” said Hutchins. “Losing in the state game definitely was tough, and I think a lot of kids coming here to tryouts saw that so I think it is something that motivates us.
“But we had a great season last year, and we want to build on that.”
Brewer graduated six seniors from last year’s team, including pitching ace Greg Higgins and middle-of-the-lineup batter Prentiss Swett.
But a solid nucleus returns, including first-team Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A North all-stars Eric White, a junior pitcher-infielder, and senior pitcher-outfielder Chase Daniels, along with second-team outfielder Billy Bissell, a senior.
Another second-team choice, senior catcher Jon Thoms, is working his way back into game shape after undergoing offseason knee surgery to repair an injury suffered while playing football last fall.
Other key returning players include Hutchins, senior infielder Kyle O’Connell and senior catcher Andy Bush, while junior Jordan Richards is a versatile newcomer to the program after transferring to Brewer from Nokomis of Newport.
“We had a lot of kids playing last year who are back so we have a lot of experience this year,” Bush said. “The big question is who’s going to step up and be the leaders. We’ve got a good senior class and a lot of leadership in there, so it’s really just who’s going to step up and be those leaders.”
Hart to coach CH baseball
Longtime Camden Hills of Rockport boys basketball coach Jeff Hart is turning his attention to the diamond this spring as the Windjammers’ new varsity baseball coach.
Hart, who served as the team’s junior varsity coach last spring, replaces Tom Stammen, who stepped down after last season when he took a job at the Mid-Coast School of Technology.
“I’m having fun with it so far,” said Hart, who coached the Camden Hills boys basketball team to a 22-0 record and the Class B state championship this winter.
Hart, who played baseball while growing up in the Farmington area, also previously served as junior varsity softball coach for a year at Camden Hills.
He is optimistic his team will be competitive this season, but adds that the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference — which has produced five of the last nine Class B state champions, including 2008 winner Gardiner — will be typically challenging.
Camden Hills last won an Eastern Maine Class B crown in 1999, when the former Camden-Rockport won the second of two straight regional titles.
’Jammers to play on campus
The Camden Hills varsity football team, which will enter the Pine Tree Conference Class B ranks next fall, will play its four home games on the Rockport campus at Don Palmer Field.
The Five Towns Community School District voted 6-3 at its March meeting to allow the team to play home games on Don Palmer Field, which also is the home to the school’s soccer teams in the fall.
That vote accepted the district’s facility committee’s earlier vote uphold the administration’s recommendation to allow the football team to use the field, provided its condition is assessed before and after each game.
Throughout the development stages of the program through its club status last fall, the varsity team has played on a field at the Camden Snow Bowl.
Safford to switch schools
The Hampden Academy boys basketball team will get a boost next season with the pending transfer of Camden Hills of Rockport standout Graham Safford to the school.
Safford and his family are set to move to Hampden this month, as his mother has taken a new job in the area.
Safford, a 6-foot sophomore point guard, was a first-team All-Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B all-star this winter after averaging 11.7 points, 4.6 assists and 2.8 steals per game for Camden Hills.
He subsequently was named to the Bangor Daily News Eastern Maine Class B all-tournament team, then helped coach Hart’s club cap off a 22-0 season with a victory over Cape Elizabeth in the state championship game.
Safford joins a Hampden Academy team that reached the Eastern Maine Class A quarterfinals this season despite not having a senior on its roster.
Coach Russ Bartlett’s club finished the 2008-09 season with a 11-8 record after falling to Bangor in its tournament opener at the Augusta Civic Center.
Among the leading returning players for the Broncos next season will be first-team All-KVAC Class A North guard Brad Dolan and second-team choice Jacob Moore, a 6-foot-6 forward.
Safford also was a second-team All-KVAC Class B soccer player at Camden Hills last fall.