As the Bangor High School baseball team began tryouts this week, there wasn’t a bat in sight.
Chairs and softballs were the ancillary equipment of choice for much of the workout as the Rams performed drills focused on throwing the baseball.
“We want to have as many pitchers as possible,” Bangor senior Noah Missbrenner said. “Everyone seems to buy into what coach [Dave] Morris is saying and really works hard at getting better at throwing to start. Then if you’re interested in pitching, he has all the tools to teach us.”
The Rams have trusted this process for years — with unprecedented results.
Bangor seeks its sixth consecutive Class A state championship this spring after winning a record fifth title in 2018. Pitching has been at the forefront of the Rams’ 90-10 record since their last postseason loss in 2013.
Six branches of the pitching tree — Justin Courtney, Trevor DeLaite, Andrew Hillier, Peter Kemble, Jesse Colford and Gary Farnham — are playing collegiately. All but Hillier, a third baseman at the University of Southern Maine, are still pitching.
Courtney, DeLaite and Kemble are at the Division I University of Maine; Colford is at Husson University, a Division III program; and Farnham pitches at Division II Bentley University.
“There’s definitely a culture that I saw immediately when I came in as a freshman at Bangor,” said Courtney, who as a senior pitched a one-hit shutout against Windham in the 2014 state final to start the streak. He is now a fifth-year senior at UMaine.
“The whole time in front of me were guys who were really competitive and pitchers who were eager to learn. I think a big part of the success is that the younger guys saw how much the older guys wanted to learn, and they’ve learned from that,” he said.
Morris and his predecessor, Jeff Fahey — who guided Bangor to its 2014, 2015 and 2016 titles — have enhanced that eagerness to learn with their desire to develop pitching depth during the spring and through the American Legion summer baseball program that Morris has led since 2010.
Colford represents the best example of making the most of that entire baseball season. The right-hander was a preseason cut from the high school team as a freshman in 2013 but came back to pitch a 1-0 victory over South Portland in the 2014 Junior Legion state championship game.
By his senior year in 2016, Colford was the primary reliever as Bangor High won its third straight state crown. After his freshman season at Husson, Colford pitched the Bangor Coffee News Comrades to their third Senior American Legion state championship in four years.
“If you’re willing to put the work in, make the sacrifices and listen to your coaches, you can make your dreams come true,” Courtney said. “For me, that was playing college baseball and just college athletics in general, and to see that I’m in the position now as a role model along with Trevor and Peter here at Maine and Jesse — who has a great story to tell — at Husson, younger kids can see it can be done no matter what your circumstances are.”
Morris said the regimen involves physical conditioning, developing arm strength and learning the skills unique to pitching.
“Most of the time it’s establishing good mechanics and a mindset of how to compete on the mound, just having some grit and a good tempo that keeps the defense on their toes versus their heels,” said Morris, who was a catcher at Bangor during the mid-1980s.
That mindset is buoyed by the fact that Morris trusts his pitchers and catchers to call their own games.
“I think it’s huge for pitchers to call their own game because you’re fully invested in the pitch, and you can throw the pitch with full intent because that’s the pitch you want to throw,” said DeLaite, the 2016 Mr. Maine Baseball.
Bangor typically has fielded a three-pitcher starting rotation during its 16-game regular season, but the addition in 2017 of pitch-count limits in Maine high school baseball has prompted coaches to build additional depth.
“What we like to do is have four starters and use three a lot with that fourth guy being kind of a safety net,” he said. “Then you really want two other guys who can come out of the bullpen.”
Depth becomes even more important for contending teams interested in spreading out the work and saving innings thrown by their top starters for postseason play.
“Then you get into the playoffs, and you’ve got a substantial number of guys with some good experience,” Morris said.
Morris has shut down some of his top high school starters for much of the summer to keep their pitch counts down, creating opportunities for less experienced pitchers to thrive during the Legion season.
Colford and Kemble, who initially came to prominence at the Legion level, have made the most of those opportunities.
“The level of baseball changes but pressure is pressure,” DeLaite said. “We’ve all pitched in a lot of big situations, and that’s something we’ve been able to carry with us and is another part of developing players, seeing how good they are when they’re under pressure.”
Bangor High’s current pitchers already are armed with such experience.
Senior right-hander Zach Cowperthwaite went 8-1 last spring, pitching a complete game in the Class A North title game before working into the fifth inning of the team’s 10-6 victory over Gorham in the state final.
Junior lefty Carson Prouty — one of the state’s top swimmers during the winter — emerged as a force out of Bangor’s bullpen last spring. He pitched 2 2/3 innings of one-hit, shutout relief to save the Gorham victory.
Missbrenner also is back and fresh from helping Bangor’s boys basketball team capture the Class AA state championship.
“We’re just trying to get better every day in whatever we’re doing,” Cowperthwaite said. “It’s about being consistent and working hard everyday to be able to translate it onto the field.”