Ryan Kolben was half of Greely High School’s pitching duo this spring as the Rangers went 18-2 and returned to the Class B South championship game.
But as it’s been since his introduction to the sport more than a decade ago, catching is where Kolben’s baseball passion resides and a big reason the 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior was named the 30th recipient of the Dr. John W. Winkin Award symbolic of Maine’s Mr. Baseball on Wednesday evening.
“I’ve been catching all my life, since Farm League and Little League up until now,” said Kolben, who plans to continue working behind the plate at the University of Massachusetts.
“Catching I get the ball every pitch, I’m always in the game. I never really had any joy standing in the infield and not getting the ball or in the outfield the same way. There’s always action.”
Kolben’s honor was announced between games of the Maine High School Baseball Coaches Association’s senior all-star doubleheader played at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.
“It means a lot,” said Kolben, only the second Greely player to receive the award, following Brandon Brewer in 1997. “All of the hard work I’ve put in all my life led up to this and my next four years and I couldn’t be happier to have some sort of hardware to show that it’s paid off.”
Kolben, also the Western Maine Conference Class B South player of the year, was one of two Mr. Baseball finalists from Greely of Cumberland Center along with pitcher Zach Johnston, who is bound for Wake Forest University in the fall.
Other finalists were pitcher-outfielder Cody Bowker of Class A state champion Thornton Academy in Saco, pitcher-outfielder Colton Trisch of Bangor, pitcher-infielder Ty Giberson of Class C state champion Bucksport, pitcher-infielder Hunter Brissette of Lisbon High School and pitcher-outfielder Blaine Cockburn of Freeport High School.
Kolben made a verbal commitment to attend UMass before his junior year at Greely despite seeing limited varsity action as a freshman and then watching as the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID 19.
His play with the Maine Lightning club program helped pave the way to the UMass scholarship offer, but his efforts at Greely during the last two springs validated that early interest.
Kolben batted .340 with three home runs, seven doubles and a team-high 22 RBI as a junior for the Rangers last year.
After throwing out 16 of 24 would-be base stealers during the 2021 season, just one baserunner even bothered to attempt to steal against him this spring, and while that daring runner was successful, Kolben thinks the steal may have come on a curveball.
Kolben also batted a robust .510 for coach Derek Soule’s club as a senior with four home runs, 12 doubles and just five strikeouts during the regular season and an on-base percentage of .650 while batting third in the Greely lineup for the second straight year.
“I like to think I have gap-to-gap power and am hard to strike out,” Kolben said. “When guys get on I tend to move them over or score them. I think I’m just an all-round polished hitter who likes to put the bat on the ball.”
When he wasn’t batting or catching, Kolben teamed with Johnston to lead a pitching staff that fired 10 shutouts during the regular season — including six straight to conclude the schedule — and added two more scoreless games during postseason play.
In his first spring of pitching, Kolben went 6-2 and fired back-to-back, five-inning 11-0 no-hitters against Cape Elizabeth and Freeport in mid-May.
The right-hander also pitched in the Class B South title game, yielding two first-inning runs before settling down to allow just two hits over 6 ⅔ innings with 12 strikeouts in the top-ranked Rangers’ 2-1 loss to Freeport — the Falcons’ second upset victory over Greely in the regional final in as many years.
“It stung a little bit,” Kolben admitted. “I think on paper we were probably the better team both years and coming up short hurt. It hurt the day of and the day after, but after that it’s all behind you and you look forward to what’s next.”
What’s next is the chance to play Division I baseball in the Atlantic 10 Conference at UMass.
“Hopefully I’m going in there ready to play as a freshman,” he said. “Catching and hitting, I’ll do the best I can to help that program and see where it takes me.”