MT. ARARAT HIGH SCHOOL junior pitcher Garrett Moody faces the three-time defending Class A State champion Bangor Rams on Wednesday in the Class A North baseball regional final at Morton Field in Augusta. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.

MT. ARARAT HIGH SCHOOL junior pitcher Garrett Moody faces the three-time defending Class A State champion Bangor Rams on Wednesday in the Class A North baseball regional final at Morton Field in Augusta. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.

TOPSHAM

Ryan Glass, Ryan Mello, Kaileb Hawkes, Nick Merrill, Kyle Brennan, Nate Leslie, Hunter Lohr, Cam Grant, Sam Alexander and Garrett Moody.

 

 

To those who regularly follow Mt. Ararat High School baseball, these names are recognizable as some of the reasons for this year’s success as the Eagles prepare to take on three-time defending State Class A champion Bangor on Wednesday at Morton Field in Augusta in the Class A North Regional final. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.

Each have been important contributors to this year’s squad, which is coming off a pair of upset postseason wins, including a 4-2 shocker over third-seeded Edward Little on Saturday in Auburn.

On Wednesday, Moody will get the ball against the Rams, the No. 4 seed. It is a spot Moody has certainly become comfortable with — pitching in a high-stakes playoff game against a higher seeded squad. So far, the junior righty has risen to each occasion, going 2-0 come postseason time over the last two seasons, including a solid outing against Messalonskee in a preliminary contest June 6.

JUNIOR GARRETT MOODY gets the start Wednesday when Mt. Ararat faces Bangor in the Class A North baseball regional final at Morton Field in Augusta at 5 p.m.

JUNIOR GARRETT MOODY gets the start Wednesday when Mt. Ararat faces Bangor in the Class A North baseball regional final at Morton Field in Augusta at 5 p.m.

The baseball story for Garrett began as a youngster playing in the Topsham Youth Baseball League.

“I started out in Topsham, and Topsham All-stars was the worst team and the first team out of the All-Star playoffs.”

The Ararat and Topsham leagues merged when Garrett was 10-years-old, and success came right away.

“We went to states as 11s and finished third, then U12s came around and us kids and parents loved each other. We would win districts then go to states. We just worked together and never fought. It was always us against Lisbon.”

It was that group of players above that came together during those years, forming a bound that carried into middle school and AAU baseball.

The transition to high school was difficult when Garrett was a freshman. Over a three-year stretch, the Eagles were a combined 6-42 and had not come close to reaching to the postseason. But, it was a season of under-15 baseball that changed the fortunes for many of these Eagles.

“When I was a freshman, I played freshman, jayvee and varsity. Freshman year was a bad school season, but we went together as 15-year-olds, won states and went to New Englands and won the entire thing. That really lifted us up. Then as a sophomore, the entire team was mostly us sophomores and led to that success. (Senior) Cam Cox and Harper Moutal, a senior last year, fit in perfectly in that team bonding. We worked hard and proved to teams that we weren’t that bad.”

“ We played AAU one summer and after winning a championship, we needed to think of the longterm goal. We knew that we could make an impact,” said Merrill, who mans shortstop for Mt. Ararat.

Chemistry has never been a problem for this group of Eagles.

“It goes back to T-ball that they have been together, and one reason that they are so competitive,” said Mt. Ararat coach Bob Neron. “Nick and Garrett have played in the middle of the infield since they started. There is not a whole lot of coaching that is needed there because they are always in the right spot.”

Big win

As a sophomore, Garrett helped the Eagles to a 7-9 regular season and the No. 6 seed in Class A North. The reward was a trip to perennial power and third-seeded Oxford Hills at South Paris. Moody was awarded the start and made his mark, leading Mt. Ararat to a win and a trip to the semifinals.

“At the time that game was just another game that we wanted to win. Once we won, it showed that baseball is a game that anyone can win. Everybody got ready for the next game, Edward Little, and we all got pumped up.”

“Garrett has definitely developed over the last couple of years, and he surely puts his work in and it shows,” added Merrill. “I knew with his dad (Michael) being a pitcher that there was that potential. But he has proven a lot here. We know that he will throw strikes, work fast, and as a defense we have to be ready and on our toes. If we make the plays, we are going to be in a good spot.”

Mt. Ararat’s 2016 campaign ended against the Red Eddies, but not without a fight.

“Last year’s success, when the season ended the way it did (a 5-4 loss to the Red Eddies), it set a goal that we knew that we could achieve. We had to prove to the league that we were going to be a strong team, that our opponents were going to have to throw their number one pitcher against us.”

Then came this season, a year that began with high expectations. The season was up and down for Mt. Ararat, which never lost two games in a row and but also failed to win more than two straight in the regular season, a campaign that finished at 8-8 after a regular-season closing 4-1 loss to Oxford Hills in eight innings, a game that Garrett pitched well in.

Garrett feels Mother Nature had a lot to do with his team’s inconsistent play.

“The rain messed with us, all those delays, and we could never get into a streak of hitting. We would have a game, then go a week without really hitting. Practice is good, but it doesn’t get you ready for game situations. During the winter, we take 200 swings a night with our dads. Then the high school season starts and you just don’t have the time to do that.”

“Garrett had a couple games in the middle of the season where he wasn’t on,” said Cox, a captain and the team’s catcher. “Garrett wasn’t bad, but just couldn’t throw those curveballs and change-ups for strikes. He didn’t have that success. Now, he is really commanding and can find those spots.”

Mt. Ararat garnered the No. 7 seed and faced Messalonskee in a Class A North home preliminary game. Moody went six-plus innings, throwing 107 pitches and allowing just six hits and three walks while picking up two strikeouts. Grant closed by retiring all three batters that he faced in the win.

That contest was typical Garrett, keeping Messalonskee hitters off-balance and working fast.

“There is nothing worse as a fielder than having a guy on the hill that is fidgeting around, 15-20 seconds between pitches,” said Neron. “You want the guys on the balls of their feet. Garrett does that.”

“I love catching for Garrett,” added Cox. “He has such command with his curveball and changeup, something you don’t find in a high school pitcher. High school pitchers can’t throw a good changeup. He trusts himself to throw change-ups and curveballs with a man on third, which is huge. Going into a game with Garrett on the hill, we have to be on our toes defensively. He will let hitters put the ball in play, and that makes us better. We know that we have to make plays. We just rally behind him.”

“I keep batters off-balance. I know that I don’t throw hard, and I know teams are going to hit against me. But, I also know if I throw strikes, they are going to hit the ball to my teammates, who are some of the best fielders in this league. I trust them, and I know they are going to make the plays. I don’t have to throw 100 miles-per-hour like other teams.

“A lot of teams have that one pitcher, two pitchers, but our team has a lot of pitchers. We all have each other’s backs. Our saying this season and in these playoffs is ‘it is just another game. Don’t make it more than it has to be. Do what you do and we will make the plays and things will go the right way for us.’”

Garrett credits a lot of his success to Cox.

“Cam has been through it all. He is a senior, and is just able to relax kids. He brings the whole team together and reminds them that it is just another game. Baseball is 90 percent mental and if you don’t stay focused, you won’t do well. Having Cam as my catcher, I trust him. If runners are on base and I throw a pitch in the dirt, those runners are not going to take another base because Cam is going to block it. He is great and he can stop teams from getting that extra base.”

“Cam is the best defensive catcher that we have had here in 25 years,” Neron said. “I have seen it up close all of that time. You won’t find a better blocker. He has made a difference with all of our pitchers. A pitcher like Garrett, a two-strike breaking ball maybe going in the dirt, you have to have a catcher back there that blocks it. He gives them that confidence to throw the ball in the dirt. Nothing gets by him.”

On Saturday in Mt. Ararat’s 4-2 win over Edward Little, Garrett, who mans second base when he is not on the mound, rose to snag a line drive off the bat of Red Eddie Grant Hartley for the first out of the seventh inning. The play might have saved the Eagles’ season.

“I knew right then and there when he caught that ball that we had them. It was a double that he took away and was the key to that last inning,” Neron said.

“I didn’t realize it at the time as I was just trying to do my best, give 100 percent. For every playoff game, you have two hours to focus. The ball came at me and I just had to do my best. My team would have had my back if I missed it.”

Facing Bangor

Now comes Wednesday and the Rams, a program that has been there, done that. Still, Garrett and his team have confidence and momentum heading into this crucial contest.

“They are just a team. They lost a lot of seniors from last year. Yes, they have won three straight championships, but they are not going to keep winning. They will eventually lose, and we might as well be the team that beats them. We want to beat Bangor, to prove to the state that we can beat anyone.”

“Garrett is the reason we are where we are today,” said Neron. “He has late movement on the ball and it is hard to teach that. He has developed that skill. If he threw it with four seams, his ball would still move. He is a worker, doesn’t take anything lightly and takes his bullpen sessions seriously. He deserves the success that he has had.”

“We need to do what we have been doing and just make as few mistakes as possible,” said Merrill.

“I think he has pitched in enough high intense games that he will keep his cool,” concurred Cox. “Garrett pitched against them earlier this year and he wasn’t on (a 10-0 loss). But under this pressure he will perform well. It helps that we just beat Brewer and EL. They are superpowers in the KVAC, and we realize now that we can play with the big boys. We have the confidence.”

Garrett points to a few keys for himself and his team.

“I need to keep the ball down and we need to make the plays that we normally do.”

Win or lose, Garrett is proud of his team.

“No matter what happens, it has been amazing.”

“They are as focused of a group that have had here in a long time,” concluded Neron. “It doesn’t matter who they play. From my perspective, we just need to come out and put some runs up early. It will take some pressure off of us if we strike early.”

BOB CONN is The Times Record sports editor. He can be reached at [email protected]timesrecord.com.