Most American Legion baseball teams did not play last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic that closed the spring and most summer sports.
Five area teams are happy to play again this summer, but many still have to work to make a full list in each game.
A team that played baseball last summer is Sr. Bandits, former Turner Bandits from last year’s Summer Independent Baseball League. Most of the players from last year’s list return, and they have not forgotten the success they had or the bitter end of the season. The team draws players from Dirigo High School, Mountain Valley High School, Leavitt Area High School and Hebron Academy.
The Bandits had a 6-1 lead against Motor City last summer in the Independent League’s state final before losing 7-6. This year, the Bandits’ only focus is on winning a state championship.
“They know what is expected of them, “said Senior Bandits head coach Chuck Mollica. “We had a tough loss at the end of last year, and we were a couple of outs away from taking the state title over Motor City. We made a couple of mistakes and after we were up 6-1 we lost 7-6. So the first thing that was talked about was, you know what to expect. It was a tough loss last year, but we expect to be back in the thick of this year, and that is our goal, to win the championship. ”
Mollica, whose assistant coaches are Terrance McCormick and Central Maine Community College head coach Ryan Palmer, said this year’s squad do not have to go through much of the team building on and off the field as many other American Legion teams do at the beginning of the summer season.
“I think it will help a lot,” Mollica said of the team that played together last year. I think last summer, because of everything that happened, the young men on the team really formed a very strong bond. They had nothing else going on, they were on lockdown, no school, so they formed a very strong bond. There would be days we would practice, and it would be hot outside, and then they would swim at Coos Canyon. I think the bond that was created last year will last until last year or next year. ”
Among the players expected to be catalysts for the bandits this season are Leavitt’s Grant Mollica and Matt Wallingford and Dirigo Cole Brown, Dallas Berry and Derek Ducharme.
Another team that does not need much extra team building is Salem-based Ware-Butler, which is new to the American Legion this summer and consists primarily of the current Mt. Abram varsity and junior varsity players along with Rangeley’s Trevor Dolbier and a former Mt. .
Ware-Butler is trained by Abram assistant Jamie Phelps. While many of the players have experience playing together, their competition this summer will include players from major classifications such as Roadrunners.
“It’s going to be a tough season,” Phelps said. “We do not play much of these children in class C, B and A. I wanted the children to have so many bats and times in the field and to grow the Abram team next year. ”
Phelps said he had two players play with a team outside of Skowhegan last summer, and that made them more prepared to face playoff pitching this season. He is trying to help all his players this summer to have the same experience.
In the first two games of the season last Saturday, Ware-Butler beat Charlie’s Family of Dealerships (Erskine Academy’s Legion team) and lost to Senior Bandits by one race. In the coming week, Phelps’ squad will have matches against Augusta and Bessey Motors (Oxford Hills) who will test the team.
“My ace jug, Hunter Warren, is going to Central Maine Community College next year, and he’s a top two pitcher in Class C South, in my opinion,” Phelps said. “His growth is not very great, but he throws from the heels. My shortstop, Ben DiBaise, I think he has a glove that can play in college. I’ve also been impressed with my catcher Kenyon Pillsbury, and all three of these kids were first-team MVC kids. ”
In Lewiston, Pastime Club coach Chris Reed has patched together so far this season.
Pastimes have some Lewiston High School players, a piece from Edward Little High School, Oak Hill High School and Waynflete, as well as a few players after graduation. The difficulty for Reed is to fill a list of nine players each game when so many also play travel basketball.
When each player is available, the pastime has a talented squad.
“I’m excited about them all, we have a pretty solid group,” Reed said. “We have three guys playing for Lewiston who will be seniors next year in Andon Cox, Josh Murphy and Damon Bossie, who have been on the program and have been college players since they were first-year students. Obviously, these guys will be the backbone of what we do. We also have a young catch in Michael Dymkoski, and we have Keegan McLaughlin, who just graduated in the last year, so we have a lot of our mainstay Lewiston boys who are not strict travel boys.
“We have Patrick Anthoine from Edward Little, and we have Luke Josephson, a red-brown guy who went to Waynflete. Oak Hill’s Gavin Rawstron is a part-time watch, we managed to get him, and when he can do it, he can do it. He’s an excellent baseball player and he’s going to USM to look up. We have a couple of boys after graduation, Brodi Farinas, who was No. 2 (pitcher) at Wentworth University and was a Lewiston. He threw our first game for us and he is excellent. ”
Auburn will not field a junior or senior legion team this summer because so many players chose to play baseball instead.
The Franklin County Flyers are back for the 2021 season. The young squad is again led by head coach Kyle Gunzinger and includes players from Mt. Blue High School, Spruce Mountain High School, Rangeley Lakes Regional School and Madison Area High School.
“We were looking forward to it,” Gunzinger said. “We had a year off, but Mt. The Blue boys did a great job of preparing the kids. And I was interested in seeing how we compete because I think six of the nine starters are 16. I was interested in our first game to see how they would fare against good boxes, and Augusta has two very good boxes, and they competed very well against Augusta. ”
“We have some young boys,” Gunzinger added. My nephew, Bryce Gunzinger (graduation), Sam Wrigley (Mt. Blue), Isaac Parker (Spruce Mountain), we have a lot of boys. I’m been impressed with Hunter Tewksbury, I think he fought .544 this spring with Madison. Hayden Dippner of Mt. Blue. I think it was a conference at KVAC, and he’s just a sophomore. “
Bessey Motors, a powerhouse the last couple of American Legion seasons, will also have to paint to put together a full team this summer.
“I was very lucky (two years ago), where baseball mostly came first, at least for my start, “said Bessey Motors coach Shane Slicer. “Kids try, you can’t put them off, but at the same time Legion has sponsors and a championship, it’s more than just a pick-up game. It hits you hard when you don’t have enough kids.”
Bessey Motors has, as usual, a large group of Oxford Hills Vikings, and when it has a full team, they expect to be able to compete with the best.
“We have quite a few good players in the spring, “said Slicer. “Andrew Merrill, Wyatt Knightly, Ethan Cutler, Eli Soehren, we have a postal degree in Cade Truman, Brady Downing, a postal degree from Poland that I have not seen play much, Ty LeBlond, we have some good players, but it’s a mix and struggle. ”