BLUE HILL — The scenes of empty fields last spring hit everyone hard. For Dan Kane and the George Stevens Academy baseball team, the season that never was hurt even more.
After a strong 2019 season in which it claimed the No. 1 seed in Class C North and finished with a 16-2 record, GSA had the pieces to be even better entering 2020. Returning all but three players, the Eagles had hopes of following a year that ended with an upset loss to Orono in the regional semifinals with an even deeper playoff run.
That opportunity, needless to say, never came for Kane’s team. Instead of being able to compete for a championship, GSA was deprived of the opportunity to take the field at all as an entire season was ripped away.
“We had really been looking forward to it, so to not be able to play at all was highly disappointing,” Kane said. “With what we had coming back, I was confident that we could have been a top-four team, at least.”
With seven seniors from last year’s would-be team having graduated, a younger GSA team is in a much different position this season as the first games approach. Yet for a program that is always at the forefront of the Class C baseball picture, the expectations have remained high as a bit of structure and order returns to the Maine high school sports scene.
From the lineup to the field to the pitcher’s mound, GSA has plenty of pieces to replace from its 2019 run. Among those players are Parker Allen, John Bakeman, Caden Mattson, Ryan Mullen, Austin Snow, Vanessa Sherwood and Owen Vinall, the seven seniors who missed out on a final season a year ago.
Offensively, GSA will miss the production of Mattson and Snow, All-Penobscot Valley Conference players who helped the Eagles small-ball their way to the top of the Class C North standings. Snow and Vinall were also solid performers on the mound for a GSA team that allowed three runs or fewer in 14 of the team’s 18 contests.
“We could kind of see [the canceled season] coming because of everything that was happening, but it was still kind of a bummer,” said current GSA senior Garrett Parker. “We had a great senior class, so it was tough for them to not get that shot. I think we would have had a great season.”
Yet while GSA has some shoes to fill, the team does have its ace pitcher returning in Parker. The right-hander established himself as one of the area’s top pitchers two years ago as he was named a first-team All-PVC selection as a sophomore.
Parker’s most notable performance two years ago came as he struck out 10 batters and allowed just three hits in six innings of work to lead GSA to a 3-1 win over Ellsworth. That defeat would be the only loss all season for Ellsworth, which entered the contest averaging 9.3 runs per game.
“I had a really good year [two years ago], and my arm is feeling really good again this year,” Parker said. “I threw when I could last year, but it was also good for my arm to get a year of rest. I feel like I’ve been able to pick things back up pretty easily.”
The Eagles’ rotation this year will also include junior Teague Smallidge and sophomore Sol Lorio, two players who will be new to pitching at the varsity level. That will be a theme this year for a GSA team that returns little varsity experience beyond Parker and fellow senior Jed Sawyer, though Kane’s team certainly isn’t the only one facing that challenge.
“You have a lot of people who would have played last year that couldn’t get that experience in,” Kane said. “You take guys who are juniors this year, and because there was no season last year, those guys right now have played varsity. That’s something we’ll have to overcome and that other teams will have to overcome.”
GSA will open preseason play at home against Brewer at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 14. The Eagles will then host Piscataquis in a preseason game at that time next Friday, April 16, before beginning regular season play at 2 p.m. April 21 with a home contest against Sumner.
With such roster turnover, GSA’s path to the top stands to be much more difficult than it would have been a year ago. Yet with the return of a traditional schedule and statewide playoffs, the opportunity is there for a program that’s always in the mix come June.
“It’s definitely a young group, but we have progress every day, so I think we’ll be in a good spot by the end of the season,” Parker said. “It definitely hurt not being able to go last year, but that’s OK because this year is going to be pretty good, too. … I think we’re capable of anything.”