IT’S THE FIRST SPRING for the Bridgeway Bandits baseball team, and it comes as the result of a decision that was made last fall.
“After football season, I met with Chris LeBlanc and Nate Stubbert, the Madison and Carrabec ADs, and we kind of put some numbers on paper and looked at it and said ‘Wow, Madison has 11 coming back, Carrabec has 10,’ ” said coach Scott Franzose, who also coaches the Madison football team. “So really, first and foremost, it’s a matter of survival for the programs.”
And according to Franzose, it’s been a smooth synthesis for the Madison and Carrabec programs. The roster has talent, as both Madison and Carrabec made the playoffs last year, and Franzose said they’ve built chemistry and camaraderie by playing on the same youth and summer baseball teams.
“The nucleus of what we have, these kids, whether it’s an Evan Bess and a Ryan Emery from Madison, or a Dustin Crawford and a Dylan Willette from Carrabec, they’re baseball kids,” he said. “They’re excited to just come in, come together and play. … They come in, they’re no-nonsense, they want to work, they love the game of baseball. The learning curve, I’m not sure we have one right now.”
Franzose said if there is an adjustment to make, it’s not for the Carrabec players to get used to playing with new teammates, but playing for a new coach.
“My guys kind of know me. I’m a little bit of a broken record,” he said. “It’s kind of those Carrabec kids coming in and building a relationship. But they’re great kids, they’ve made it very easy.”
The move is not a permanent one, however. Sagging numbers drove the schools to combine for this season, but Franzose said they’ll reassess after the season is over.
“We’re calling it a one-year thing, and we’re going to be taking it year by year,” he said. “It’s going well, the kids are excited, they’re coming together well. So we’re going to wait and see. We’re going to keep working at it and see what happens.”
Franzose said recent turnouts have him confident the numbers will swing back up.
“I do see the numbers rebounding in the next two to three years, basically the same that they have been,” he said. “At Madison, we’ve had, on the average, 14 to 16 players. So we do have the potential for the numbers to rebound if the kids do stay with baseball.”
• • •
IT FEELS LIKE the first time for Tony Stewart, despite being in his second season as the head coach of the MCI softball team. Stewart took over as head coach of the Huskies after just two games last season when former coach Amanda Riendeau vacated the position.
Stewart was an assistant coach at MCI for two years before taking over the top post. He’s also coached middle school sports in the area.
Compounding the difficult situation Stewart found himself in was the fact that first baseman Hailey Gurney was lost for the year after Stewart’s first two games in charge. Gurney, now a senior, injured her knee in practice, and though it’s been a long rehab process for the Scarborough transplant, she’s expected to be ready for this season.
“She still needs to pass a physical test, needs to be OK’d, but we should have her back,” Stewart said.
MCI finished just 2-14 last year in KVAC B, but the Huskies might be closer to the postseason than people think. Five starters return this year from a team that was extremely young a year ago.
“Last year, we didn’t get to do a lot of drills I wanted to do (in the preseason),” Stewart said. “As an assistant coach, you can give your recommendations, but if the head coach doesn’t want to do it, there’s not much you can do.”
One area of concentration this spring has been in the batting cage. With an inexperienced group, good pitchers who could mix up their pitches gave the Huskies fits.
Stewart said hitting off-speed pitching has been a focus.
“A lot of changeup drills,” Stewart said. “That got to us the last two years. It was something we never worked on on the side, because other things would come up.”
• • •
ANOTHER PLAYER lost to injury last season was Mt. Blue’s Taylor Burke.
Burke was similarly injured during a practice, sliding into home plate when her foot caught an exposed corner. She was out for the year with a broken leg.
“That girl lives for softball,” Mt. Blue coach Ron Smith said.
The Cougars finished just out of the Class A North playoff picture, having dropped two games in extra innings and several others by two or fewer runs.
Having a full season of Burke, now a senior, in the middle of the lineup as a power-hitting first baseman could make up for some of the Cougars’ past deficiencies.
“We seem to be, like every team when you’re fairly young, that we struggle more with hitting than we do with defense,” Smith said. “Defense comes a little more natural to them. They work hard defensively.”
• • •
IT’S A REUNION of sorts for Chad Stowell at Oak Hill High School.
Stowell is in his first year as the Raiders’ head coach, marking a return to the program for which he was once a player and an assistant. He was a three-year starter at Oak Hill before graduating in 2000, and he was an assistant coach with the team from 2005-08 after finishing his playing career at Thomas College. He was with the team when it won the Class B state championship in 2006.
According to Stowell, a former instructor and American Legion coach who also coaches the boys JV basketball team, there hasn’t been much of an adjustment to taking over his former squad.
“Honestly, it was kind of weird because I felt like I was going to have some growing pains,” he said. “But it was almost like I went from a basketball practice to a baseball practice, and I never skipped a beat with these guys.”