SEARSPORT, Maine — It’s been quite a run for the Searsport baseball team.
The Vikings have done no worse than reach the Eastern Maine Class C final each of the last five years, winning the last three regional championships and earning state titles in both 2006 and 2008.
Those teams all were marked by a veteran nucleus to lead the way, something that will be lacking when coach Dave Pepin’s club opens the defense of last year’s EM and state championships Wednesday in a 4:30 p.m. home game against Deer Isle-Stonington.
Ten seniors graduated from the 2008 team, which finished 17-3 after shutting out Livermore Falls 5-0 in the state final at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish — leaving one senior, three juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen on this spring’s roster.
“It’s a rebuilding process,” said Pepin. “We graduated our whole pitching staff and a four-year starting catcher, but we’re still the defending champions so we’re going to have that bulls-eye on our backs and we’ll have to grow up in a hurry.”
Searsport does return two fulltime starters in junior Evan Kingsbury and senior Matt Bagley. Kingsbury, an outfielder last year, will take over as Searsport’s top starting pitcher, and when he’s not on the mound he’ll play shortstop.
Kingsbury has had a knack for coming up big in big games for the Vikings, going 5-for-6 at the plate in the team’s last two state championship games.
“He’s our leader,” said Pepin. “He’s been there before, and he loves the game of baseball.”
Bagley, the lone senior on the squad, will play first base and be the No. 2 pitcher, while sophomore Allen Connor will round out the starting pitching staff as well as play center field.
“We know from the last few years that we’ve got to pitch and play defense to win championships,” said Pepin. “And we’re working on our hitting.”
Getting off to a quick start will be important in Searsport’s bid to return to postseason play.
The Vikings play their first three games at home, including a date Friday against Dexter and then a test next week against perennial contender George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill.
Pepin sees George Stevens, Orono and Washington Academy of East Machias as teams on Searsport’s schedule that could contend for regional honors in 2009, while Calais and Stearns of Millinocket also are expected to be contenders.
Pepin also is hopeful his young team will experience the necessary growth during the regular season to be a factor again come playoff time.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be fun,” Pepin said. “Teams are not going to feel sorry for the three-time defending Eastern Maine champs, and we know that.”