In recent years, most of southern Maine’s best high school baseball players have chosen to attend college out of state.
That trend appears to be changing.
Scott Heath of Westbrook High School and Sam Balzano of Deering High in Portland, two of Maine’s top players in 2010, have verbally committed to attend the University of Maine beginning in 2011.
The players confirmed their decisions Tuesday.
UMaine coach Steve Trimper is prohibited by NCAA rules from commenting on recruits until they have signed their National Letters of Intent, which should be in November.
Heath was the Southern Maine Activities Association Player of the Year. The lefthanded-hitting outfielder batted .421 with two home runs and 20 runs batted in, leading coach Mike Rutherford’s Blue Blazes to the Western Maine Class A championship game.
Heath chose UMaine over schools such as Elon, Wake Forest, North Carolina-Greensboro and Rhode Island.
“They made me an almost unrefusable offer,” Heath said of UMaine’s scholarship commitment. “I like the coaches, I like where the program is going and I’ll be playing for my home state university. My family will be able to see me a lot. I feel like it’s a good fit for me.”
The 6-foot, 185-pound lefthanded pitcher compiled a 7-2 record in 2010, striking out 85 batters in 67 innings.
Most schools wanted Heath to focus on pitching, but Trimper agreed he can contribute as a position player and hitter.
“Coach Trimp really showed interest in me and he really wanted me. It means a lot to feel wanted in a place,” said Heath, who plays outfield and first base. “He said I’d get right in and get my swings right away, give me the opportunity to do both.”
Balzano has impacted Deering High and the SMAA with his hitting, speed and defensive prowess in the outfield and will take those skills to UMaine.
“It’s probably the best fit for my family,” Balzano said. “I’ve always wanted to play at UMaine and it’s always been my goal to play Division I.”
The All-SMAA pick hit .396 last spring and stole 16 bases in 17 tries. Balzano posted a homer and eight RBIs while leading the league with 23 runs scored to help former UMaine player and assistant coach Mike Coutts’ Rams reach the WM semifinals.
The lefthanded batter chose UMaine’s scholarship offer over Rhode Island and New Haven. He also considered Saint Joseph’s of Standish and the University of Southern Maine of Gorham.
“It’s great to hear all these kids from Maine committing there,” said Balzano, who also was 3-1 as a pitcher.
“Playing against [Heath] has been fun, but playing with him will be really fun. Hopefully, we can win a couple of ballgames [together],” Balzano added.
Balzano will forego football this fall, after suffering a knee injury last year, to play fall baseball at Frozen Ropes in Portland under former Black Bear Nick Caiazzo.
Heath will give up playing hockey next winter and instead will work out at Frozen Ropes in Portland. This summer, he played with the Northeast Rays, an AAU-type team that played on the East Coast.
Heath and Balzano also will be UMaine classmates with Luke Duncklee of Cony High in Augusta, who will walk on at UMaine next year, along with Rockland High standout Luke Morrill, who previously announced his intention to play for the Black Bears.
Duncklee, who also plays quarterback at Cony, was an All-KVAC South first-team outfielder last spring.
The contingent of downstate players will team up with Oxford Hills of South Paris graduate Matt Verrier, the John Winkin Award recipient as the state’s top senior player in 2010, who joins the Black Bears this fall.
Spaulding joins UMaine staff
UMaine announced Tuesday that Jason Spaulding has been hired as an assistant baseball coach. He will handle the pitchers.
Spaulding replaces Aaron Izaryk, who left UMaine this summer to become the head coach at Bridgton Academy.
Spaulding comes to Orono via Manhattan College, where he was the pitching coach the last two seasons.
“We are fortunate to have someone of Jason’s caliber join our staff,” Trimper said. “I think he will be a great asset to our veteran pitching staff.”
Spaulding was a four-year starter (1997-2000) and two-year captain at the University of Vermont when Trimper was an assistant there. He went on to coach Essex (Vt.) to four straight state American Legion titles and a 68-0 instate record from 2002-05.