The race for Class A North baseball supremacy this spring has been marked by a depth of quality pitching.
Whether the tandem is Peter Kemble and Nick Cowperthwaite of Bangor, Jack Corey and Alex Brooks of Brewer, Alex McKenney and Casey Sudbeck of Hampden Academy or Jarod Norcross Plourde and Damien St. Pierre of Edward Little of Auburn, most of the divisional leaders feature pitching strength as they position themselves for a postseason run.
“We’ve definitely seen two good pitchers from Brewer, Cowperthwaite was good against us and obviously Kemble from Bangor is strong, and then teams like Edward Little and Oxford Hills (of South Paris) are always going to have kids who can go out there and compete,” said McKenney after pitching Hampden to a 5-1 win over Brewer on Monday night.
“That’s why the league is competitive this year. I don’t think anyone knows who’s going to win states this year right now. I think anyone can go out and beat anybody in the first round.”
At least three of the pitchers who are prominent within the Class A North mix will continue their baseball careers at the NCAA Division I level next year, Kemble and McKenney at the University of Maine and Norcross Plourde at the University of Hartford.
Bangor may have a slight edge in depth, with senior right-hander Gary Farnham providing the three-time defending Class A state champions a valuable third starter.
But when the season gets to the one-and-done phase, there’s plenty of contending clubs in the region that should be confident of their chances.
“Especially those top five teams or so,” said Hampden coach McLean Poulin, whose team is 10-4 and ranked third in Class A North behind Bangor and Brewer. “They’ve all got two guys they can roll out on any given day.”
HA’s McKenney peaking
Hampden Academy senior McKenney admits to getting off to a sluggish start on the mound this spring.
But since falling behind Bangor 3-0 through three innings of their first meeting of the spring on May 10 the hard-throwing right-hander has found his groove while helping the Broncos win six of their last seven outings to climb into the top three of the Class A North standings.
“Ever since halfway through that first Bangor game we played, he’s really been a shutdown pitcher that we’ve been expecting,” said Poulin.
“The biggest thing for him has been working ahead in the count, trusting his stuff and pounding that zone early. He’s really settled in on doing that and it’s paying off for him big time.”
McKenney’s last two starts, both victories over No. 2 Brewer, provide ample evidence of that accuracy.
In Hampden’s 10-0, six-inning win on May 15, he struck out 10, walked no one and threw 51 of his 71 pitches for strikes in a one-hitter.
In the rematch on Monday night, McKenney yielded just four hits — three of them infield singles — while striking out nine, walking one and hitting a batter. He threw 61 of his 86 pitches for strikes in another complete-game effort, this one a 5-1 Broncos victory.
“Just pumping the middle of the strike zone,” he said. “I haven’t been picking around the corners, and also I’ve been able to throw my secondary stuff earlier in counts and that’s helped me because then guys aren’t jumping over fastballs or fouling everything off, I’ve been able to get quicker outs.
“The last couple of games my pitch count has been really low and it’s definitely been beneficial to get ahead.”