ELLSWORTH — Conner Wagstaff’s first day of college is still more than a year away, but one of the biggest decisions of his life is now behind him.
Over the past two seasons, Wagstaff’s prowess on the pitcher’s mound has made him one of the top pitchers in both the Penobscot Valley Conference and all of Maine. In about a year’s time, the Ellsworth baseball standout will be taking his skills to the next level with one of New England’s best Division II programs.
Wagstaff took the next step in his baseball career July 29 when he committed to play for the Southern New Hampshire University. The senior-to-be will be a starting pitcher for the Penmen, who are fresh off a berth in the 2018 Division II College World Series.
“I had a lot of options, but I kept going back to this one and just think it’s the best fit for me,” Wagstaff said. “They really showed throughout the entire process that they really wanted me to be there, and the coaches, the program’s reputation, the educational opportunity and the campus really blew me away.”
Wagstaff’s 2.12 earned-run average, 11-2 record and 117 strikeouts over the past two regular seasons have been among the state’s best and have helped Ellsworth to a 30-8 record during that span. He was selected as an All-PVC first-teamer both years and was chosen for the Maine Baseball Coaches Association Underclassman Showcase Game in June.
Wagstaff got offers from more than a half-dozen schools, including Maine and Rhode Island. Yet the conversations he had with Southern New Hampshire head coach Scott Loiseau sold him on the program, and a great campus visit and generous scholarship package were enough for him to accept the school’s offer.
“They told him right away, ‘Listen, you’re a starting pitcher, and we’re going to give you opportunities right away and get you the innings,’” said Wagstaff’s father, Todd. “He’s going to get 90 percent of a full scholarship at a school he likes and is going to play for a program that’s the right fit, and you can’t argue with that.”
The decisive moment came on a Sunday evening three days after Wagstaff’s visit to Southern New Hampshire’s Manchester campus. After a day of play at a Maine Lightning AAU tournament, he called up Loiseau to inform him of his intent to play for the team.
“We got into the hotel one night after a game, and I called him to let him know I was interested,” Wagstaff said. “He called me and asked, ‘Does that mean you’re coming to SNHU?’ It was a split-second second decision right there, but I said, ‘Yes, I’m coming.’”
Although the decision was made in a mere moment, it was still one in which Wagstaff had the utmost confidence. He talked with his parents minutes after verbally committing, and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind he had made the right choice.
“I think it took us like five minutes,” Wagstaff said. “They knew how much I liked the place, and when I told them what the offer was, everyone was so excited.”
Baseball is Wagstaff’s favorite sport, but he has another love: soccer. After playing for current varsity head coach Paul Lock in middle school, he had hoped to play both sports when he reached the high school level.
Those ambitions had to be put on hold at the beginning of Wagstaff’s freshman year when he suffered a concussion playing soccer. It wasn’t until about a month ago that his neurologist cleared him to play the sport again, but a conversation with Mike Clough, Ellsworth’s pitching coach, convinced him that sticking to baseball would be the smartest — and safest — option.
“He basically sat me down and said, ‘Conner you’re a baseball player,’” Wagstaff said. “I really wanted to play soccer my senior year, but everything he said was absolutely right and what I needed to hear. It would be bad if I got another concussion, and this is too big of an opportunity to take and throw away.”
Wagstaff, though, can now spend the fall and winter sharpening his skills for the college game. Come spring, he and fellow senior Matt Burnett will form a dynamic duo on the mound as Ellsworth tries to make another deep playoff run.
“I want to be able to enjoy my senior year, but I still can’t wait to get out there and put on that EHS uniform again,” Wagstaff said. “I think we’re going to have another great year, and I can’t wait for that.”