The high school baseball playoffs may be the most difficult sports postseason to project.
So many variables separate the end of this season compared to other sports, particularly those contested during the fall and winter.
Most of the seniors playing in baseball’s postseason either are busy with graduation-related activities or already have graduated, which at the least creates a different daily routine from what they endured throughout the regular season.
That change in routine also is experienced by the underclassmen who are either counting down the days to summer vacation or already are on hiatus from academic responsibilities.
Then there is the uniqueness of baseball that allows a single player — a dominant pitcher — to throw the Heal point seedings based on a 16-game regular-season schedule all out of whack.
In particular, there are those pitchers from teams at varying locales down the standings with shutdown capabilities — veterans such as John Parker of Brunswick, Conor Maguire of Ellsworth and Gage Feeney of Washington Academy in East Machias — who can send top-ranked teams home abruptly and quite unfulfilled.
Then there are those lesser-known prospects from upset-minded teams with similar postseason ambitions such as Ryan Jurgiewich, a junior from Schenck of East Millinocket who amassed 93 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 42 regular-season innings this spring while helping the Class D Wolverines earn their first playoff berth since 2006.
And none of this speaks to the seasonal vagaries of Mother Nature, which can take the most intricately planned use of a pitching staff and turn it into a day-by-day grind of trying to survive in the moment while preserving resources for the long run.
So it’s with this collection of caveats that the following Eastern Maine championship prognostications are made:
Class A: Bangor is the defending state champion and top seeded this spring, a combination that by itself merits favorite’s status. Coach Jeff Fahey’s club is 32-4 during the past two seasons and have steadily progressed throughout this season, entering the playoffs riding a nine-game winning streak.
Messalonskee of Oakland has been seen as the Rams’ chief challenger throughout the spring, and the Eagles have done little to relinquish that title, though Edward Little of Auburn and surging Brewer have emphatically joined the list of contenders.
The pick: Bangor has yet to lose a game this spring started by its two top pitchers, junior lefthander Trevor DeLaite and senior righthander Andrew Hillier, and with just two starters required during postseason play that duo should make the difference.
Class B: This is perhaps the toughest pick of all, not necessarily because of a depth of contending teams but because of the two clubs that have dominated their respective leagues this spring.
Top-ranked Old Town is the only surviving unbeaten team statewide regardless of class and is highly motivated after falling to Caribou in the 10th inning of last year’s regional final. The Coyotes feature a Mr. Baseball candidate in senior pitcher-shortstop Eric Hoogterp and a strong second starter in classmate Adam Richardson.
Second-ranked Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston has won 14 straight since an 0-2 start, avenging its losses to Lincoln Academy of Newcastle and Camden Hills of Rockport with mercy-rule victories. Coach Don Shields’ Mariners also boast a veteran roster led by junior standout Nick Mazurek, who teams with senior Ryan Allender to give Oceanside its own stellar 1-2 pitching punch.
Other contenders include 12-win teams from Foxcroft Academy, Winslow and Waterville, and an 11-win Belfast club that earned the No. 3 seed in the division.
The pick: Old Town by a run, maybe in extra innings.
Class C: Top-ranked Bucksport and No. 2 George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill met in a wild semifinal last year, with each team scoring three runs in the seventh inning to send the game into extras and GSA then scoring twice in the top of the eighth for the 7-5 victory.
It’s absolutely no surprise that these two Hancock County rivals will be the teams to beat again this year, though Feeney and defending state champion Washington Academy, Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, Central of Corinth and Houlton also hope to make deep postseason runs.
A Bucksport pitching staff featuring Carter DeRedin, Asher Bowden and Jake Gauvin has yielded more than two runs in a game just twice this season. GSA has the higher-scoring offense as led by the likes of seniors Kelsey Allen and Hank Vinall.
The teams have split two games this spring, each winning on the road.
The pick: This nod goes ever-so-slightly to the more veteran Golden Bucks.
Class D: Always one of the more intriguing divisions to prognosticate with its Aroostook County, Down East and Penquis regions typically all well represented.
Perennial contender Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook leads the County contingent as the No. 1 seed, while third-seeded Ashland at 11-5 has more wins this spring than the previous three seasons combined (seven) and No. 4 Washburn is back after reaching last year’s semifinals.
Second-seeded Stearns of Millinocket is just two years removed from winning the Eastern C championship, while Shead of Eastport and Woodland are the best from the coastal region.
Then there’s three-time defending Class D state champion, Bangor Christian, which won its last four games to finish 9-7 despite a youthful roster with just two seniors and one junior.
The pick: Stearns. The Minutemen boast 12 seniors, including pitchers Nick Dumas and Marc Morneault, and at 13-3 Stearns has lost just once to a Class D foe, that against Western D second-seed Searsport during a season-ending doubleheader.