George Payne often saves his best for last.
Not that the senior second baseman for the Bangor High School baseball team waits until the late innings to make his impact on games, but as the No. 9 hitter in the Rams’ batting order he is far from the team’s last offensive option.
Take Bangor’s 12-0, five-inning victory over Mt. Blue of Farmington on Thursday when Payne doubled, singled, walked, scored three runs and added three RBI in his three plate appearances to go along with a leaping catch of a line drive that robbed the Cougars’ Alex Philbrick of a fourth-inning single.
“I definitely don’t get discouraged just by thinking, ‘Oh, I’m at the bottom of the lineup, that must mean I’m a bad hitter,” said Payne. “I just feel confident that if I can get on then the guys behind me will drive me in.”
Payne, who batted eighth last spring as Bangor won its third consecutive Class A state championship, studied how former teammate Ryan Brookings handled life in the nine hole a year ago and is using that to his advantage this season.
“He had basically the mindset that I’m trying to repeat this year, that ninth is a good spot in the lineup because you get in spots where you can drive in runs and you get in spots where you can get on base and score a lot of times,” Payne said.
Bangor head coach Dave Morris cited experience and understanding of the game among the reasons he moved Payne into the ninth spot of this year’s batting order.
“He’s almost like another leadoff guy,” said Morris of Payne, who will study pre-med at the University of Virginia beginning this fall. “George is a kid who’s really coming into his own. He’s developing a good approach at the plate. He’s swinging at good pitches, I think he’s hitting the best pitch of every at-bat he has.
“In that No. 9 spot he runs well, he bunts well, and he’s so dependable that between him and (leadoff hitter) Peter Kemble we feel like have a pretty good combination there.”
Payne is a three-sport standout who as a goalkeeper helped the Bangor boys soccer team capture the Class A state championship last fall and was a starting guard on the Rams’ basketball team last winter.
“I think in every sport George plays you can always count on him, we’re really fortunate to have his type of leadership,” said Morris. “He’s a quiet leader but very steady.”
Payne has complemented that steady leadership with more and more offensive explosiveness early this season for Bangor, which took a 5-0 record into Friday’s scheduled home game against Messalonskee of Oakland.
“I think he has a good sense of confidence at the plate, you know what you’re going to get from George,” said Morris. “You’re going to get a battle. He’ll be challenged with some speed at times but he’s really improved in that area, too.
“He showed (Thursday) that he’s gaining the confidence that he can hit doubles. He’s no longer just a contact hitter. I think he’s improving, hitting balls the other way and really starting to drive through the baseball.”