The Star-Herald

Panthers have personnel to make lengthy playoff run

MARS HILL, Maine — A strong freshmen group added to a large contingent of talented veterans has the Central Aroostook baseball team excited about its potential this coming season.

Mitch Ross is the Panthers’ new coach, taking over for Butch Richardson, and he has the team working diligently either in the gymnasium or in the school parking lot as it tries to stay patient waiting for the field to clear of snow.

“Practices are going well and the guys have a great attitude,” Ross said. He noted that batting cage work, fielding ground balls and pitching are the things being accomplished inside, while catching fly balls and playing long toss are being done outdoors.

“We are concentrating on making sure we have the basics down, like throwing mechanics and proper fielding mechanics,” he said.

Central Aroostook went 7-7 in 2017 and lost to Shead of Eastport in the quarterfinal round of the Class D North playoffs. The team lost only one starter to graduation in Zach Crouch and feature a good blend of players from each class.

Caleb Harris, Colby Kingsbury and Taylor Campbell are the seniors on the team, while Ben Thomas and Lane Grass are juniors and Ethan Pryor, Brayden Bradbury and Charlie Yeager make up the sophomore contingent.

New to the squad as freshmen are Josh Thomas, Cody McCrum, Malachi Fitzherbert and Stetson Nicholas.

There are still a number of positional battles to be worked out, but Harris, Josh Thomas, Ben Thomas, Colby Kingsbury, Lane Grass and Brayden Bradbury appear to have the edge with starting jobs in the infield, according to Ross. Many of the others will contend for slots in the outfield.

Pitching depth is important, especially in Aroostook County with the impending late start to the season leading to the prospect of games being backed up, along with the new pitching rule that limits pitch counts. Ross feels he has a strong stable of arms that will help the Panthers get through the season.

Ben Thomas is the team’s No. 1 starter, but Bradbury, Kingsbury, Harris and Campbell are all capable of turning in quality innings. Josh Thomas and McCrum are freshmen who could also see time on the mound.

With only 12 players on the roster, it will be vital for the team to avoid injuries, but Ross likes the promise the team is demonstrating during preseason workouts.

“This is a scrappy team who will battle hard and I feel we are going to be quite competitive,” Ross said. “Our goal is that we will play in such a way that we do not beat ourselves with mistakes, whether they be in the field, running the bases or when we bat.

“There is great chemistry on this team and if we can stay healthy, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with at the end of the season,” he added.

Richardson and Matt Thomas are assisting Ross in the coaching duties. Central Aroostook is scheduled to open regular season play with a doubleheader at Woodland on Saturday, April 21.

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