Old Town High School baseball coach Justin Crisafulli. Credit: Courtesy of Justin Crisafulli

The Old Town baseball team has experienced significant success during the last six seasons.

Since the start of the 2014 campaign, the Coyotes have gone 83-29 with one state championship, two Class B North titles and three regional final appearances.

Old Town is back on top of the division standings through early stages of the 2021 season with a 4-1 record heading into Saturday’s doubleheader at Presque Isle.

The Coyotes are being guided by a new coach with a significant legacy in the sport.

Justin Crisafulli’s baseball resume includes earning All-Scholastic honors as a pitcher-outfielder at Medford (Massachusetts) High School, then helping Western Arizona College to a third-place finish at the 1996 National Junior College Athletic Association Division I College World Series.

Crisafulli transferred to the University of Central Missouri in 1997 and helped the Mules win an NCAA Division II regional championship and compete in the 1997 NCAA Division II College World Series.

A 17th-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1996, he signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Indians in 1997 before eventually embarking on a 17-year semipro career as a slugging outfielder with the Andre Chiefs of the Boston-based Intercity Baseball League.

He was inducted into the National Semi Pro Baseball Association Hall of Fame in 2016 and the Intercity Baseball League Hall of Fame in 2017.

Crisafulli moved to Maine in 2015 and has been active in the local baseball community. He has served as a coach and clinician at Sluggers in Brewer and as a pitching coach at Husson University in 2019.

“I just wanted to stay in the game,” he said. “I learned from some great coaches and had this knowledge I wanted to give back to the kids. I wanted to let them know that baseball is such a great game because of the game inside the game.”

When Brad Goody stepped down as Old Town’s baseball coach in 2020, the time was right for Crisafulli — who works at J.A. Leonard Middle School in Old Town — to apply for the post.

“When that job became available, I thought, ‘Why not?’” he said. “I knew some of the kids from middle school, and it’s been a good transition.”

Old Town is 4-0 against Class B competition so far this spring, with its lone loss a 3-2 decision at Class A Bangor on Tuesday.

“Having last year off, we had no knowledge of what everyone else had, so it was basically, ‘Hey, guys, let’s see what we have and just go out and play hard all seven innings,’” Crisafulli said.

One strength for the Coyotes has been a pitching staff that has yielded only eight runs in five games.

That rotation features seniors Matt Seymour and Tanner Evans and sophomore Gabe Gifford, who also comprise the top third of a batting order that has averaged 7.2 runs per outing.

Other key players for the Coyotes include seniors Casey Downs and Seth Haverlock and juniors Peyton Vose, Noah Thibodeau, Connor McCannell, Blaine Murray and Isaac Hayes.

“We have really good team chemistry,” said Gifford, who is playing his first season of varsity baseball after the 2020 campaign was canceled due to COVID-19. “We’ve known each other throughout our whole lives and we play well together.”

Crisafulli hopes to capitalize on the team’s athleticism by stressing an aggressive style of play.

“My philosophy is pressure baseball,” he said. “Put the pressure on the defense and make them make the plays. Put the ball in play, hustle and take that extra base and don’t be scared, just be an athlete and take that extra base. If you hustle and get thrown out I have no problem with that. Just make sure you play smart, heads-up baseball.

“I’ve got some pretty smart, heads-up baseball players here.”

Gifford said the Coyotes have been receptive to their new coach’s approach.

“[Crisafulli] played semipro ball back in his day and he knows what he’s talking about,” Gifford said. “He knows literally everything. He can critique you and make you better in every way.”

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...