Some preseason forecasting may pay postseason dividends for the Hampden Academy baseball team.
Not that Broncos head coach McLean Poulin knew ahead of time that this never-ending stretch of uncomfortable weather would last from October to mid-May. But he couldn’t have picked a better year to take his team to Florida in mid-April to prepare for its schedule.
Hampden has completed only two full practices at its Bordick Park home since returning from the Sunshine State, but that hasn’t mattered much. The Broncos entered Friday’s scheduled game at Lewiston ranked third in Class A North with an 8-2 record.
“The No. 1 thing was we actually got outside to practice and play in decent weather,” said Poulin of his team’s trip to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando.
“I have my long johns on here today and it’s the middle of May. But when we were down there it was 80 to 85 degrees and we were outside playing games. We played four games in three days and had two days where we just practiced because we had the whole field to ourselves.”
Those workouts have helped a veteran Hampden team put forth a balanced effort while winning eight of nine games since a season-opening loss to undefeated and top-ranked Oxford Hills of South Paris.
Entering Wednesday’s 5-4 victory over Bangor, Hampden boasted a 1.82 team earned run average and a .290 team batting average as well as a knack for comebacks. The Broncos’ trailed 3-0 entering the seventh innings of back-to-back games against Messalonskee of Oakland and Brewer last week but rallied to win both contests to surge toward the top of the standings.
“We’ve been staying super intense lately,” Hampden junior shortstop and relief pitcher Gavin Partridge said after earning the save in the victory over Bangor. “We’ve had a couple of bad games but realistically we battle all the way through them. We’ve got a real close-knit group here so this is the year to do some damage.”
Hampden finished fifth in Class A North last spring with an 11-5 record before falling to No. 4 Lewiston 1-0 in the quarterfinals.
Just two players graduated from that team, leaving Poulin optimistic about the 2019 campaign.
“It’s essentially the same team, so did I expect us to play well? Absolutely, this is not a surprise to me,” Poulin said.
“It’s the camaraderie with this team,” he added. “A team can take that extra step if they all get along and work for each other, and that’s what these guys do.”
Like most other teams in soggy eastern and central Maine, Hampden must overcome a busy remaining schedule to maximize its postseason positioning.
Friday’s game at Lewiston was Hampden’s fourth of the week, and the Broncos face another stretch of four games in five days next week before closing out their regular season with a May 28 rematch at Bangor.
“Four-day weeks because of all the postponements with the rain, that will be tough,” Partridge said. “But I think we’ve got the [pitching] depth and especially the defense to stick with it.”
The chemistry is not bad, either. The Broncos need to fine-tune some things, but are stressing the little things.
“They literally have that fight-to-the-end mentality, and that’s the way this group has been ever since I can remember them from back in Little League,” Poulin said.
The lack of practice time because of the weather and field conditions has not deterred Hampden.
“That’s Maine for you and you never know so you just do what you can do and work around it,” Poulin said.