HOWLAND — Sometimes a coach’s biggest challenge is coping with his team’s adversity.
The Penobscot Valley of Howland baseball team is off to a strong start, with a 9-1 record after Thursday’s 5-4 victory over Stearns of Millinocket.
But not all has come easy for coach Ernie Gerrish’s club, which now is trying to cope with the loss of two key senior starters, center fielder Ryan Scopino and catcher David Hallett, to injuries.
Scopino suffered a broken wrist while diving for a fly ball during a May 2 win over Lee Academy, while Hallett more recently suffered a knee injury.
“When Ryan got hurt, everyone got a little down,” said Gerrish, “but [Robert] Hallett went in and played the position great the next game, we got a bunch of hits and everybody was back up.
“Then I gave David a game off from catching and put him at second, and in the first inning he takes a slide, it was not intentional, and there goes his MCL.”
Still, the Howlers have kept winning, with back-to-back victories over Orono and Stearns this week.
“David getting hurt really brought everybody down again, because we’re not a huge team, we only have 16 kids,” Gerrish said. “Now they see we can win without those guys, but they know how important every person on this team is.”
Whether either Scopino or Hallett returns to the lineup this spring is uncertain, though the team is hopeful at least one might be back before Penobscot Valley — top-ranked in Eastern Maine Class C — begins postseason play in early June.
For now, younger players are getting used to increased roles, and remaining veterans are adjusting to different teammates in those roles.
“If this had happened with a week to go or two weeks to go before the playoffs, this team might struggle,” said Gerrish. “We’re going to lose some more games because we’ve got lots of tough games ahead of us, but if we can split from here on out, I’ll be happy.”
Penobscot Valley is fortunate that among the healthy on the squad is the bulk of its pitching staff, led by senior righthander Jacob Jones, who improved his record to 5-0 with a 14-strikeout, complete-game performance against Orono on Wednesday.
“We’ve got two real solid pitchers with Jake and [Eddie] Cobb, and Brody Libby can really throw, too,” said Gerrish.
That pitching has helped Penobscot Valley score four straight victories since Scopino was sidelined, but other factors also will contribute to the Howlers’ ultimate success this spring.
“We had a good conversation at the beginning of the season around what being a team means,” said Gerrish, “and now is when we’re going to find out if they really understand that.
“And yes, it does make my job more difficult, but I’ve got a good group of kids here. I’ll take these kids any day.”