If any team has a target on its back entering the American Legion state tournament, it is Gayton Post of Lewiston. Not only is Gayton the defending state champion, but also undefeated.

But Coach Todd Cifelli runs down the list of potential contenders and says, bluntly, “This is a who’s who of Maine high school baseball.”

The Maine American Legion state tournament begins today at Augusta’s Morton and McGuire fields, with eight teams vying to earn Maine’s spot in the American Legion Northeast Regionals, which will be held at The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach beginning Aug. 4.

One team, Fayette-Staples of Saco, already has a spot in the regionals as the host team. But, said Coach Ray Petit, “We’re still going to play to win this.”

Gayton and Fayette-Staples, which was the top team in Zone 5 in the regular season but had to beat Westbrook in a play-in game to get into the state tournament, will meet in the first round, just as they did last year when Gayton won a wild one, 23-13. That first game is important.

“In a double-elimination tournament such as this, you don’t want to get in the loser’s bracket too early,” said Mike Owens, the coach of Morrill Post (South Portland).

“They make it difficult to fight back. The longer you can go without that first loss, the better it is.”

While Gayton has both the offensive firepower (averaging .431 as a team) and pitching (a team ERA of 1.01), each team has an ace.

For Morrill, that is Andrew Richards, who is 6-1 and will pitch against Bessey Motors (Oxford Hills) in the opener.

Matt DiBiase, Brendan Horton and Zach Horton are also capable pitchers for Morrill.

“We’ve been really resilient this year,” said Owens. “We’ve had a lot of games when we’ve been behind or tied in the late innings and we always seem to come up with the big hit. The kids really do believe in each other and don’t think we’re ever out of any game.”

If there is one dominant ace in the tournament, it might be Augusta’s Ryan Minoty, who has shown over the last three years that he is capable of shutting down a team.

His presence gives Augusta a big edge. As teams go deeper into the tournament, they’re going to have to use their fourth, fifth or sixth pitchers.

“And good hitting teams are going to feast on that,” said Ray Vallee, the coach at Augusta.

If there is one team that is coming in loose, it’s Ramsdell-Rogers, the team combining high school rivals Wells and York.

“The whole Wells-York thing is out the window now,” said Coach Chuck Chadbourne. “These kids are hanging out after games.”

Ramsdell-Rogers is making its first appearance in the state tournament, and upset Fayette-Staples, coming back from an 8-1 deficit to win Zone 5.

Ramsdell-Rogers will play perennial power Bangor in its opener.

“We’ve got a lot of young kids who just go out and play,” said Chadbourne.

“We’re going to run and hit and see where it takes us. It’s been fun, watching these kids go out and compete.”

Tanner Chase, the team’s only post-graduate player (he went to Bridgton Academy last year), has been Ramsdell-Rogers’ most consistent player. But this team gets contributions from everyone.

“There’s a lot of talented teams here,” said Morrill’s Owens. “It should be wide open. Obviously, Lewiston’s a favorite. But I really think it’s pretty open.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH