Some familiar names sit atop the Class A North baseball standings with two weeks left in the regular season.
Oxford Hills of South Paris, the defending regional champion from 2019, is first in the Heal Points. Bangor, which handed Oxford Hills its first loss of the spring last Friday, is second and once-beaten Messalonskee of Oakland is third.
A newcomer among the Class A contenders is Camden Hills of Rockport, which is enjoying its best season since moving up from Class B in 2016 — the year after capturing the North title.
The rise to the large-school ranks has been challenging for the Windjammers, who went 20-46 from 2016 through 2019.
Camden Hills was 9-1 entering Wednesday’s home game against Belfast and riding an eight-game winning streak since a last-inning loss to Oceanside of Rockland a month ago.
“I’ve been playing baseball since I was 6 or 7 but I’m really enjoying this spring with this group of guys,” first-year head coach Ben Rollins said. “I want to keep going on with these guys, but we’ve just got to make the most of the time we have left.”
The 24-year-old Rollins was a senior on the Windjammers’ 2015 regional championship team, then played at Northern Vermont-Lyndon. There, the home field is named after one of his baseball mentors, Skip Pound, a former NVL athletic director and more recently a former assistant baseball coach at Camden Hills.
“Skip definitely took me under his wing and really toughened me up during those years on varsity,” Rollins said.
After graduating in 2019, Rollins served an internship with the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks of the New England Collegiate Baseball League and traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, for the American Baseball Coaches Association convention.
“It was while I was there that I thought, ‘I think I want to coach baseball,’” he said.
Rollins was set to coach Camden Hills’ junior varsity squad in 2020 until COVID-19 forced the season to be canceled.
After Paul MacDonald stepped down as the school’s varsity baseball coach, Rollins moved up this spring.
“I knew a little of what I had coming in but I didn’t really have a big-picture view of what I had,” said Rollins, who helped coach a local U17 team last summer. “When we had tryouts it was pretty easy to tell that we had a pretty special group of guys here.”
The Windjammers are led by senior catcher Sam Moody, senior pitching ace Logan Putansu, junior center fielder Matt Kremin and junior pitcher-shortstop Liam O’Neal. Senior left fielder Obediah Miller has been another key contributor, as have two freshmen, second baseman Cam Brown and left-handed pitcher Hunter Bell, a transfer from Oklahoma.
The team’s schedule is more a travel concession to the coronavirus than Camden Hills’ Class A status, with 14 of the 16 games against Class B midcoast rivals.
“We all know our schedule is probably the easiest of the company we’ll be around in the playoffs, but we understand that it’s about COVID with the scheduling so we’ve just got to win the games we’re handed and try to get better every day,” Rollins said.
The Windjammers’ lone loss came when Oceanside scored six runs in the top of the seventh inning for an 8-7 victory in the second game of their season-opening doubleheader.
“We learned a lot about ourselves,” Rollins said. “We learned that we weren’t invincible.”
Camden Hills then scored four consecutive one-run victories, including a 1-0 survival of Belfast on May 3 with the lone run scored on an eighth-inning balk.
Since then, Camden Hills has added four more victories while outscoring its opposition 39-15.
“The bats are definitely coming alive,” Rollins said. “We’re definitely taking a lot better at-bats and the defense naturally has gotten better. We’re finding our timing in the box and finding our mental clock in the field.”
The lingering question facing the ’Jammers is how they will fare against Class A playoff competition after limited exposure to the state’s largest baseball programs earlier in the season.
“These guys know what they need to do,” said Rollins, whose team defeated Brewer 8-7 at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor on April 23 and 9-6 at Rockport on May 5 in its only games against a Class A foe. “All I know is we’re going to see some good teams in the playoffs, and I hope it’s multiple teams we see in the playoffs.
“If we get Bangor or Messalonskee or Oxford Hills, I’ll just view that as a great opportunity to up our game.”