BANGOR, Maine — One of the more competitive divisions of high school baseball statewide in recent years has been Class C North, which has produced five different champions in the last five years.
Amid that parity has been at least one constant, the ever-contending presence of George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill.
Coach Dan Kane’s Eagles have reached the regional championship game in each of the last three years. They scored twice in the bottom of the seventh inning last spring to rally past Houlton 9-8 and capture its first Class C North/East crown since 2009.
It marked the sixth regional title for the Eagles since the start of the 2002 season, a run of consistency highlighted by back-to-back state championships in 2003 and 2004.
With only two seniors having graduated from last year’s club that finished 18-2 after dropping a 3-2 decision to Sacopee Valley of South Hiram in the state final, George Stevens looks well-positioned to contend for a championship again this spring.
“We just set a goal that we try to get better every day,” said Kane on Thursday after a preseason game against three-time defending Class A state champion Bangor at Mansfield Stadium. “Of course, as competitors, in the back of their minds they want to go back there, but we know we have good teams we have to beat. We caught a few breaks last year in the playoffs that allowed us to get to the state game, and we know nothing comes easy.”
GSA’s biggest strength may be its depth, particularly on the mound where the pitching staff, led by seniors Jacob Keenan and Beckett Slayton, returns intact.
“Really I have six different guys who can throw, which is a huge plus at our level,” said Kane. “They all throw pretty good stuff and have varsity innings under their belts. Beckett, Jacob Keenan, Stefan Simmons, Taylor Schildroth — they’ve all had playoff innings under their belts, too, and some pretty big ones.”
Seven starters return to a batting order ignited by Schildroth, a junior shortstop who serves as the Eagles’ leadoff hitter. Those veterans share the leadership role for a well-stocked program with 30 players in grades 9-12.
“They’ve been a fun group all the way along, they like playing,” said Kane, a 2016 Maine Baseball Hall of Fame inductee now in his 29th year as GSA’s head coach. “They enjoy the game of baseball and they’ve set a tone for how they like to play. They’re serious about the game but at the same time they have a fun side to them, and that balance makes it so it doesn’t get dry for us.
“As we get going throughout the season hopefully we’ll be successful day in and day out and it will just feed on itself after that.”
Schildroth is one of several Eagles fresh from winning the school’s second straight Class C state championship in basketball. That contingent also includes Slayton, Simmons, Tyler McKenney, Ben Cole and Jarrod Chase, whose tie-breaking 3-pointer in the final seconds lifted George Stevens to a 47-44 victory over Winthrop in the gold-ball game.
“They’re good, solid athletes who like to compete and win,” said Kane. “Who doesn’t like to win? They’re a confident bunch but they know it’s a different game and they know we have some tough opponents out there so nothing’s a given.”
That competition in Class C North is expected to come from numerous locales including Houlton, Washington Academy of East Machias, Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, Central of Corinth and Orono, which has a pitching staff led by University of Rhode Island-bound recruit Jackson Coutts.
“It will be whoever gets hot in the end,” said Kane. “That’s how baseball works.”