FALMOUTH — The ping of the baseball off the bat is heard repeatedly in the batting cage in Falmouth High’s gymnasium. Potential outfielders practice catching fly balls in another corner of the gym.

While snow still covered baseball diamonds across the region until recently, the Yachtsmen worked hard inside. After all, they have a title to defend.

Falmouth won the Class A South baseball championship a year ago, and while the Yachtsmen missed out on the title they wanted most – they lost to Bangor 5-0 in the state final – it’s one they’re working hard to win again.

“We want to have fun, but it’s all business from here on,” said senior shortstop Robbie Armitage. “We have six (or) seven seniors and we all want to win. We came close. But we’ve never (won) that Gold Glove. We really want to bring it home.”

Falmouth looks like the favorite in Class A South once again. The Yachtsmen return three starting pitchers – lefties Cam Guarino (an All-State selection who went 10-0 with a 0.52 ERA) and Reece Armitage (7-1, 0.83 ERA, 65 strikeouts in 441/3 innings) and right-hander Max Fortier (2-0, 0.42 ERA) – as well as two outstanding middle infielders in Robbie Armitage and second baseman Colin Coyne – and an experienced catcher in junior Garrett Aube. And they’re hungry.

“Our focus is on the one loss we had in that key game,” said Coach Kevin Winship. “It left a sour taste in the kids’ mouths. They’re fired up to get back to where we were last year.”

It’s not going to be easy. No team has repeated as regional champion in southern Maine’s Class A division since 2009, when Deering won its third consecutive state championship. Since then, seven other schools have won the regional championship.

That doesn’t surprise anyone in Class A South, which is comprised of the Southwestern Maine Activities Association plus two Western Maine Conference teams: Falmouth and Kennebunk.

“Baseball is the hardest sport to repeat in and be consistent because of the way the game is and pitching,” said South Portland’s Mike Owens, whose Red Riots have played in the last two regional finals. “You can have a great approach and run into a hot pitcher or hit balls right at guys. It’s a funny game. It’s hard.”

SMAA coaches proudly talk of their league’s parity. Where once you had a dominant team like Deering, said Marshwood’s Eric Fernandes, “There’s about 10 teams who are going to have something to say about it.”

“I don’t care who you play in the SMAA, you’ve got to bring it,” said Scarborough Coach Mike D’Andrea, who coached those dominant Deering teams.

Greg Paradis, returning to coach at Thornton Academy for just this season after a seven-year absence, sees a different game now.

“The difference in the amount of kids playing year-round is astounding,” said Paradis. “When I was here before, I thought we had a good group of baseball players. But they also played hockey, football, basketball. Now, you see it more and more with baseball and softball, they play year-round. It raises the level of play and you get better competition.”

D’Andrea and others point to the lack of a dominant pitcher. “Historically, in the past, you would have one guy striking out 14 to 16 in a game,” he said. “You haven’t seen that in a while.”

Teams put the ball in play more often, and that puts the onus on defense. That’s why Falmouth is confident. The Yachtsmen are traditionally strong defensively.

“We do the same stuff every day,” said Guarino. “Bunt defense all the time … We practice the routine stuff and we get the job done.”

But in baseball, even that’s not always enough.

“If the ball bounces the wrong way, it can change the outcome of a game,” said Deering Coach Josh Stowell. “Baseball is just one of those games where, literally, anyone can win on any given day.”

They know that all too well in Class A South.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

mlowe@pressherald.com

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

 

REPEATING IS HARD TO DO

Since Deering won three consecutive Class A baseball state championships from 2007-09, no team from Class A South has won back-to-back regional titles. In fact, only two of the last seven champions have advanced to the regional final the following year. Here’s a look at how Class A South champs have fared the next year:

2009: Deering (lost to Westbrook, 7-6, in regional semifinal in 2010)

2010: Biddeford (lost to Westbrook, 5-1, in regional quarterfinal in 2011)

2011: Cheverus* (lost to Scarborough, 7-5, in regional final in 2012)

2012: Scarborough (lost to Portland, 5-4, in regional quarterfinal in 2013)

2013: Westbrook* (lost to Falmouth, 6-0, in regional quarterfinal in 2014)

2014: Windham (lost to Marshwood, 13-1, in regional quarterfinal in 2015)

2015: South Portland (lost to Falmouth, 4-2, in regional final in 2016)

2016: Falmouth

* Won the Class A state championship