The 2012 high school baseball season is here, with a few games scattered about Western Maine on Thursday and a smattering of Down East clashes kicking off the Eastern Maine schedule on Friday afternoon.
Perhaps the biggest source of mystery this spring is how the new BBCOR standards for bats designed to reduce the speed of the ball upon impact in the interest of player safety affects the game.
Will the game change drastically, with fewer home runs and lightning-fast line drives, replaced by more of a small-ball mentality that focuses more on seeking out single runs at the expense of pursuing the big inning?
Will the games be lower scoring, with defense becoming even more important as more balls become playable instead of reaching open spaces on the field before the defenders can react?
Those answers will be forthcoming in the next couple of months, but the fact that all teams face the same challenges means 2012 should be just as competitive a season as any of its predecessors.
Here’s a thought or two about who might emerge as Eastern Maine champions this spring:
Class A: Lewiston won its first Eastern Maine title since 1950 by edging Bangor in last June’s regional final, and the Blue Devils are loaded again this year.
Bangor suffered heavy graduation losses, but will be led by one of the region’s top pitchers in senior left-hander Curtis Worcester. Messalonskee of Oakland, led by senior shortstop Sam Dexter, could be another threat for a deep postseason run, as will Erskine Academy of South China.
The pick: Lewiston.
Class B: Waterville graduated ace pitchers Kyle Bishop and Tim Locke off its state championship team, but the Purple Panthers will remain one of the top teams in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference. The Penobscot Valley Conference figures to be deep, with Ellsworth, Hermon, John Bapst of Bangor, Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor and Presque Isle all returning talented squads.
One wild card could be Foxcroft Academy, which went undefeated in Class C last spring before falling to Calais in the Eastern Maine final. The Ponies return their top three pitchers from a year ago to lead them in their move up to the Class B ranks.
The pick: Mount Desert Island.
Class C: Calais is the two-time defending regional champion, and the Blue Devils graduated just one non-starting player from last year’s roster. Seniors Adam Geel and Joe Mitchell continue to anchor the pitching staff.
Who will challenge Calais? One prime possibility is Bucksport, which is making its Class C debut after generations as a top-level Class B program – and reaching the Eastern B final each of the last two years.
The pick: Calais.
Class D: Katahdin of Stacyville is coming off its second EM crown in the last four years, and the Cougars will try to defend that title with a new head coach in Dale Fiske and a much younger roster.
Bangor Christian, the other Eastern Maine finalist last spring, must overcome the graduation loss of ace pitcher Tyler Alexander but will be hardened by a tough regular-season schedule as well as the fact that many of the Patriots are also part of the school’s soccer program that has produced three straight state titles.
But the two teams battling for the top spot this year could be Deer Isle-Stonington and Central Aroostook of Mars Hill, two programs always in the hunt and both fielding experienced rosters this season.
The pick: Central Aroostook.