It’s usually not going out on a limb to suggest Bangor High School will be one of the teams to beat in the Class A baseball race.
The Rams have won five state championships and six regional titles in the last eight years — and one of those seasons, in 2020, was canceled.
This year’s club, which features 12 seniors and 13 returning players, may be particularly motivated given how its 2021 season ended — on a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the seventh inning as South Portland outlasted Bangor 3-2 in the state championship game.
“It’s a motivator, but I also think we try not to look too far ahead right now,” Rams’ senior pitcher-outfielder Max Clark said. “We maybe play with a little more of a chip on our shoulders than we might have last year because we know what the feeling’s like and what it takes to get there, but we have a little experience that we didn’t have last year so that should be good.”
Bangor’s biggest graduation loss from last spring’s 14-7 squad was pitching ace Bradley McLaughlin, now playing across Broadway from the high school as a freshman at nearby Husson University.
But nearly all the rest of the key players are back, a group that derives much of its success from pitching and defense.
“The kids are eager and I think have some high expectations,” Bangor head coach Dave Morris said. “Last year was a good year. The state game was a tough game, that was more my fault than theirs, but we’re just trying to take one day at a time and it’s been a good situation so far.”
The pitching staff figures to be led by senior Colton Trisch, the No. 2 starter for the Rams last spring. The George Washington University-bound left-hander struggled with his control at times during his first season pitching at the varsity level last spring, but has come back with a year of experience under his belt to go with his high-speed fastball.
“This year a big focus, especially during the offseason, was to throw more strikes and trust my defense, and I think I’m executing that better this year,” Trisch said. “The velocity is up still, but the command is better than it was last year.”
Clark also figures prominently in the pitching rotation, as do junior right-handers Wyatt Stevens and Matt Holmes. Senior righty Luke Missbrenner is a strong candidate to head up the Rams’ relief corps.
“We have a bunch of really good pitchers and with the defense we have all we need is pitchers who throw strikes,” Trisch said.
Senior shortstop Keegan Cyr anchors that defense, joined in the infield by Missbrenner and classmate Gavin Young at first base, senior Braydon Caron at third base and sophomore second baseman Yates Emerson. Seniors Jonah Baude and Mason Long add infield depth.
Caron’s twin brother, senior Ben Caron, has moved to center field after starting at second base last spring. Several teammates will flank him, depending on who is pitching.
Trisch will play left field along with seniors Jackson Anderson and Brady Hand, while Clark, Stevens and Holmes all are expected to see duty in right field.
Senior Ryan Howard is the returning starter at catcher, backed up by sophomore Jack Schuck.
“We all trust each other,” Cyr said. “We all love playing with each other. We have 2 1/2-hour practices, and a lot of people would dread being out there but we love it. Ever since the last Legion season ended we’ve wanted to get back to this point.”
The Rams acknowledge their ultimate fate this spring may depend on their ability to generate offense, a phase of the game that was less consistent than their offense and pitching last season.
“Nobody’s going to score on us as much as they want,” Cyr said. “Last year that’s how we got to the state game and this year to take us over that hump we’ve just got to produce runs. I think the experience we’ve got now will help us hopefully get a consistent lineup going this year and put up some runs.”
Bangor will be tested early, including season-opening home games at 11 a.m. next Wednesday against Edward Little of Auburn and Friday against Lewiston, followed by games at Hampden on April 25 and Class B state champion Old Town on the 28th.
“[Edward Little and Lewiston] are a 1-2 punch,” Morris said. “They’re both good teams that are bringing back some significant players and pitching.
“We really don’t think there’s an easy opponent on the schedule, and the first four games are all going to be tough ones.”
But even considering those opponents is looking too far ahead for Bangor, which travels to South Portland on Saturday to face the Red Riots in a preseason rematch of last year’s dramatic state final.
“We hold ourselves to the highest standards,” Howard said. “We know our goal is going to be the state championship, but we’ve got to take it one game at a time.”