Jesse Colford has experienced championship-level baseball on numerous stages during the last five years.
He pitched a 1-0 shutout over South Portland as the Bangor Cadets won the 2014 Junior American Legion state title, then later that summer competed for a Bangor team that reached the semifinals of the Senior League World Series.
The right-hander went on to become a reliable reliever during the early stages of Bangor High School’s run of five consecutive Class A state championships, and was named most valuable player of the 2017 Senior Legion state tournament after two pitching victories as a starter, the second in the title game over Yankee Ford of South Portland to give the Coffee News Comrades their third state championship in four years.
This weekend the 20-year-old Colford has a chance to add to that resume on the collegiate level as he leads top-ranked and host Husson University into the North Atlantic Conference tournament beginning Friday with an 11 a.m. opening-round matchup against the fourth-seeded University of Maine at Farmington.
“I guess being the hometown kid has its perks in that sense,” said Colford, a junior and one of Husson’s team captains. “It’s going to be great having the conference tournament here. We’re going to have a big crowd and hopefully we’re going to grab that championship.”
Colford is the reigning NAC pitcher of the week after picking up victories in back-to-back starts while allowing 12 hits over 12 shutout innings while striking out 12 batters with no walks.
He’s been dominant throughout the conference schedule.
Colford is 6-2 overall, 4-0 in the NAC, with a 0.83 earned run average, 24 strikeouts and only three walks in 21 1/3 innings of league play.
“Jesse’s been a bulldog for us, he’s the type of guy you want on the front end,” said Husson coach Jason Harvey, whose team is 23-14 overall and riding a seven-game winning streak. “He attacks guys, he goes after them.”
Harvey said Colford sets the tone for the Eagles and has excelled with hard work and determination.
Colford debuted at Husson in 2017 and, after making his first appearance as a starter in Florida, seemed destined to reprise the relief role he thrived in at Bangor.
“Our staff that year was very good,” he said. “When we got back from Florida coach told me the best role for me might be as a closer, but I told him I still wanted to be a starter and I was going to work as hard as I can to get there.”
By the early stages of league play that April, Colford was in the starting rotation — and he’s never left.
Colford worked amidst some tough luck in 2018, compiling an 0-6 record despite pitching five complete games with a 2.95 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and three walks in 42 2/3 innings.
He went 0-4 with a 2.48 ERA in NAC play as Husson failed to qualify for the postseason largely due to a paltry .219 team batting average.
“That left a pretty bad taste in our mouths,” Colford said. “When we came back for fall ball we kept preaching to the guys to keep that in their minds to push you throughout the rest of the year because we’re coming in hungrier and even stronger than we were last year. We’ve used it as motivation.”
In his first start this season, he allowed seven earned runs in 2 2/3 innings of a season-opening 8-0 loss to Worcester Polytechnic Institute on March 9 — a game the Eagles played on two hours sleep after a late arrival in Florida.
He bounced back with confidence.
“I definitely think I have the same mentality but I think I’ve grown from the last two years,” said Colford, a business administration major. “I know the league, I know what guys can hit certain pitches and that helps me when looking from start to start.”
Husson has won eight of its last nine conference games, with Colford anchoring a starting rotation that includes senior Ryan Allender of Rockland, junior Blake Slicer of Waterford and sophomores Alex Brooks of Brewer and Cam Graham of Littleton and a bullpen featuring junior Jake Gauvin of Bucksport and sophomore Nolan Dousa of Mansfield, Massachusetts.
“Jesse definitely leads our staff and when he’s on the rest of us are on,” senior infielder and captain Alex Chapman said. “He’s definitely found his role and I think he’s going to continue to thrive in it.”