File photo of the Searsport High School baseball team celebrating after winning their third straight Class D state title at Saint Joseph's College in Standish in 2017. Credit: Ryan McLaughlin | File

Searsport District High School’s status as the three-time defending Class D baseball state champion is a tribute to the pride within the program and its productive feeder system from Little League up through the middle school.

It’s also a tribute to the competition within the Penobscot Valley Conference both during the regular season and playoffs.

Searsport’s dramatic 6-5 victory over Bangor Christian in last spring’s state final marked the sixth straight year a PVC school has won the Class D crown, with Bangor Christian winning in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and Searsport taking it all the last three years.

And that doesn’t count 2011 state champion Greenville, which won that title while still in East-West Conference but since then has returned to the PVC.

To take it a step further, no non-PVC team has even qualified for the Class D state final since Wiscasset in 2014, as the last three gold-glove games have matched conference rivals with Searsport defeating Stearns of Millinocket in 2015 and Penobscot Valley of Howland in 2016 before outlasting Bangor Christian last June on Mitchell Philbrook’s two-out, walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Whether the Penobscot Valley Conference continues that domination this year remains to be seen, but Searsport is back in familiar territory as the top-ranked team in Class D South with an 8-2 record entering Friday’s schedule.

“I think the PVC is so strong that every day we’re facing good pitching so that’s an advantage we have over teams that play a lot of smaller ‘D’ schools,” said sixth-year Searsport head coach John Frye. “They don’t see the pitching we do every day when we face Bucksport and Lincoln and (George Stevens) and teams like that.”

That’s another strength-of-schedule asset for the Vikings, who typically play six to eight games each spring against Class C opponents — in this year’s case Bucksport, Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln and Frye’s alma mater, Sumner of East Sullivan.

“We’re still facing ‘C’ teams during the regular season and that helps us come the playoffs,” said Frye. “When we know we can play with the Bucksports and Lincolns and GSAs then we know we can be in every game we play come playoff time. We may not win all the time but we’re going to be right there.”

This year’s Searsport team is younger than its most recent predecessors with just four seniors on a roster otherwise dominated by juniors and sophomores.

“At this moment we’re trying to find leadership, that’s the biggest issue we’ve been having,” said Frye as he scouted a Jonesport-Beals/Highview Christian game at Bangor’s Mansfield Stadium on Thursday evening.

What similarities this Searsport club has to its most recent championship editions is a dominant No. 1 starter in junior Charlie Spiegel and an aggressive base-running philosophy designed to generate scoring opportunities and put pressure on opposing defenses.

The hard-throwing Spiegel, who went 10-0 last spring, is 14-1 overall for his career and this year is teaming with senior Ben Powell atop the Vikings’ rotation.

“Charlie’s such a leader in the batters’ box, too,” said Frye. “He’s been intentionally walked 11 times because nobody wants to pitch to him, but we’ll take the runs because once he gets on first he’s got enough speed so that he’ll be at third in a couple of pitches.”

Frye said his team has struggled at times at the plate but uses the stolen base as a weapon whenever the Vikings get runners aboard.

Last spring, for example, 2017 Mr. Baseball finalist Barrett Grant alone stole more than 50 bases during Searsport’s title quest.

“This year we don’t have someone like Grant but the overall team speed is better,” Frye said. “That’s how we win games. We pitch, we play defense and we’ll take a walk because that can end up as a triple and then we’ll bunt or do whatever else we have to do to score the run.

“We know that when we’ve scored four or five runs in the last three or four years we haven’t lost much.”

Searsport is 25-5 over the last two seasons, with the lone Class D defeat during that span a 9-3 regular-season decision to Bangor Christian on May 7. Searsport had defeated the Patriots 16-8 on April 24.

Searsport faces a rugged schedule to close out the regular season, with two games each against Greenville and Mattanawcook Academy as well as single games against Bucksport — the top-ranked team in Class C North — and Penobscot Valley of Howland.

Those four opponents have a combined record of 30-13, but Frye sees the contests as more of the same preparation his team has used to great success during the last three years.

“By the time the playoffs come around hopefully we’ll be where we need to be,” said Frye. “We’re going to hit the ball, we’re going to get on base and we’re going to run the basepaths, but we’re going to go as far as our pitching and defense will take us.”
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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...