The recent decrease of power hitting in high school baseball due to the introduction of safety-conscious BBCOR bats has left most teams searching for ways to manufacture offense to compensate for the lack of the long ball.
Few have done it better the last two years than Bangor High School, perhaps making it no surprise the Rams are now two-time reigning Class A state champions.
“It feels amazing,” said Bangor shortstop Kyle Stevenson. “This year our motto has been ‘Prove it,’ that last year was last year and this year we had to prove it again. It just feels awesome that motto came true.”
Coach Jeff Fahey’s club capped off a second straight 18-2 season by carrying the gold glove off the field despite generating just three hits in its Eastern Maine final and three hits in Saturday’s 5-4 state championship game victory over South Portland.
“We had a lot of games like that this year where we had to grind out out wins, right from the start of the season,” said Fahey, who has led Bangor to three state titles and a 227-49 record during his 15 years as the head coach at his alma mater.
Several factors enabled the Rams to grind through and persevere this spring, which began with the highest of expectations after seven starters returned from the 2014 title team.
First and foremost was the experienced pitching of aces Trevor DeLaite and Andrew Hillier — both of whom went undefeated on the mound for the second straight year.
DeLaite, the junior lefthander who will play at the University of Maine after graduating next spring, was 8-0 in a season capped off by his 17-strikeout, no-walk performance as Bangor edged Brewer 1-0 in the EM final.
Hillier, the senior righthander who will continue his baseball career at the University of Southern Maine next season, finished 5-0 after battling to throw a complete-game six-hitter in the state final.
Complementing that dominant pitching duo — DeLaite’s ERA was under 1.00, Hillier’s under 2.00 for the spring — were facets of the game that led to both run prevention and run generation.
“We have to give all the credit to the coaching staff,” said DeLaite. “They’ve done everything for us. We have the best coaching staff in the state, they work so hard at everything they do and give us the right mentality.
“We work on situations a lot in practice, and it goes back to the coaching staff always talking with us about situations and getting us prepared for games.”
The Rams’ defense was solid throughout the spring — Bangor did not commit an error in three Eastern Maine playoff games before its four-error anomaly in the state final.
One key component of that defense was the emergence of sophomore Derek Fournier at catcher.
Word about his throwing arm apparently got around the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference quickly, because teams rarely attempted to steal against Fournier and the quick-working Bangor pitching staff.
“My biggest concern going into this year was replacing Hunter Boyce at catcher but Derek (Fournier) was outstanding,” said Fahey. “He had just six attempted steals against him the entire season, and he threw out four.
“Hunter was as good as they get and there were 18 attempted steals against him and he threw out 11. To only have six attempts against us all years is unheard of.”
While opponents didn’t take many extra bases against Bangor, the Rams were nearly perfect in taking the extra base themselves, getting caught just once in approximately 40 stolen-base tries.
That ability to move runners into scoring position without benefit of a hit aided in Bangor’s uncanny ability to score two-out runs.
In their final three victories of the season, including a 9-3 semifinal win over Messalonskee of Oakland, the Rams scored nine of their 15 total runs with two outs.
That included the decisive four-run rally in the bottom of the fourth inning against South Portland that turned a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 lead.
“All year we just haven’t given up after getting two out, we’ve just kept trying to score runs,” said Stevenson. “It’s worked out a lot for us, especially (Saturday).”
Eight seniors, including Hillier, third baseman Sam Huston, outfielders Jordan Derrah and Marcus McCue and second baseman Johnny Cote, just graduated from the program with a 36-4 record over the last two seasons.
“This year was extremely, extremely hard,” said Huston, who will play baseball at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish next spring. “We knew everyone was going to come after us harder because we won last year but we just came out fighting every day and continued to get better.”
But with the run of recent success throughout the Bangor baseball system from Little League to the American Legion ranks — Queen City teams are the defending state champs in both Senior Legion and Junior Legion while also reaching last August’s Senior League World Series semifinals — there’s optimism that more title runs may be in the offing.
Bangor will return a deep pitching staff next spring anchored by DeLaite and rising junior righthander Peter Kemble, with James Prescott, Jesse Colford and Nick Cowperthwaite among the other developing arms waiting for their big-game opportunities.
Add the returning presence of DeLaite, Fournier, Stevenson and outfielders Ben Crichton and Ryan Brookings to pace the lineup and the Rams again will be one of the preseason favorites in what will be known next spring as Class A North.
“We lose some key guys, but we lost a couple last year, too,” said Fahey. “I think there’s a big upside to Bangor baseball right now. Honestly, next year we might be better than this year.”