The boys of summer at Fort Kent Community High School instead used the tools of winter as they prepared for the 2019 baseball season.
Baseball bats and catcher’s mitts were replaced by snowblowers and shovels for much of the preseason. The first priority was clearing Jalbert Field of some the deepest snowfall northern Aroostook County has endured in many years.
Caribou, located 45 miles to the southeast and home to a National Weather Service office, reported having at least 1 inch of snow on the ground for a record 163 consecutive days, from Nov. 10 through April 21, and totaled 164.7 inches for the winter.
“I’m 51 and as far back as I can remember this is the most snow I’ve ever seen here,” said Fort Kent baseball coach Tracey Hartt.
“This year it seemed like everything that fell on the ground stayed on the ground. We were running out of places to put it.”
When snow wasn’t the issue, high water from the Fish River flooded left field.
“It’s hard to practice when you have the river running behind your field and it’s flooded right up to it,” Hartt said.
None of those meteorological challenges have deterred the Fort Kent baseball team, which enters the Class C North playoffs ranked second with a 15-1 record and is riding a seven-game winning streak.
The Warriors feature a senior-laden roster of three-sport athletes that include seniors Camden Jandreau, Josh Soucy and Eden Paradis.
Soucy and Paradis anchor a pitching staff Hartt believes is much deeper than in recent years, thanks to the additional time spent throwing while the team was confined to the gymnasium during preseason.
Most team members also have helped Fort Kent capture the 2018 and 2019 Class C North soccer championships and went a combined 30-10 in basketball during the last two years.
“We have some guys who are very good, but I think the beauty of this group is that on any given day any one of them is going to do the little extra that’s going to make us win,” Hartt said.
This spring’s baseball fortunes were founded in the team’s run to the 2017 Class C North semifinals.
That effort was highlighted by a 3-2 quarterfinal upset over perennial power George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill, which is the top-ranked team in this year’s field.
“Two years ago when we were kind of in a development stage and we went down to GSA (George Stevens Academy) and beat them (3-2) in a playoff game I knew we had a pretty special group,” Hartt said. “Did I expect 15-1? No, but I knew they were definitely capable.”
One additional source of motivation — particularly among the fourth-year players — are previous playoff frustrations. Those include back-to-back losses in the last two soccer state finals, a preliminary-round exit from last winter’s basketball tournament after a 14-4 regular season, and heartbreaking losses to Dexter in each of the last two baseball playoffs.
Last spring, Dexter scored twice in the top of the ninth to stun the higher-seeded Warriors.
“I think a lot of those guys think baseball is their last hurrah and they’ve been going all out,” Hartt said. “I’m proud with the way they’ve dedicated themselves this year, everybody’s been ready to play every day.”
Fort Kent could face Dexter for a third straight year in Thursday’s quarterfinals as the Warriors host the winner of Tuesday’s prelim between the No. 10 Tigers (6-10) and No. 7 Bucksport (7-9).
“I’m confident we have a well-rounded team,” Hartt said. “We play good defense. We have a lot of team speed. We can hit the ball for power and we can hit for base hits. I am confident with that.
“It’s something we’ve been working toward for four years now. I guess if you wanted to be somewhere, this is where I’d like to be, but I don’t take anything for granted.”
A strong postseason also could attract younger players to the program, one which has only three freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors in line to return to Fort Kent’s varsity squad next spring amidst declining enrollment.
Fort Kent’s enrollment has dipped more than 10 percent in the last two years alone, from 281 students during the most recent Maine Principals’ Association classification cycle to 252 for the start of the new cycle that begins in September.
“I’m figuring there were a lot of kids who haven’t come out to play because we have such a big senior group this year,” Hartt said. “When we began making noise with this group a couple of years ago, some of the younger kids didn’t come out to play knowing that they might not get a lot of playing time.
“But we’ll be out recruiting this summer and fall for next spring.”