BREWER, Maine — “Home” at the outset of the regular season for the Brewer High School baseball team was 15 miles away from home at the University of Maine.
Home also became Mansfield Stadium in Bangor as well as the Winkin Complex on the campus of Husson University, also on the other side of the river from the Witches’ true home.
Not until Mother Nature obliged a waterlogged outfield with some rainless days did home truly become home again, last Thursday afternoon when Brewer played at Heddericg Field for the first time this spring and defeated Brunswick 14-0.
Senior Night followed on Tuesday evening, providing a second true home test for the Witches, and the atmosphere was more like Homecoming given the large crowd — including more than a few who were seeing the highly ranked team play for the first time this year.
That ambiance only grew more celebratory after Brewer knocked off its chief rival and three-time defending Class A state champion Bangor 3-1.
“It was pretty fun,” said Brewer senior right-hander Jack Corey, who scattered four hits over 6 2/3 innings to earn the pitching win. “The crowd was huge, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many people here. They were really loud, and I love it.”
That victory, and the enthusiastic recognition of the 12 seniors on the roster that followed the game, served to double as recognition of the Witches’ perseverance throughout what could have been an intensely frustrating spring when home for a game so often identified by the uniqueness of its playing fields was relegated largely to a time block inside the school’s gymnasium.
“I think it was an excellent job by the kids,” said Brewer head coach Dana Corey, Jack’s father. “We’re 18 strong. They get along together, they have fun and they support each other whenever we’re working and practicing. They know when we’re going to have fun and they know when to bear down and get after it, and that makes coaching them even better because they can tell from our demeanor what needs to be done.
“But it’s tough being in a gym. It’s just so tough being in a gym because there’s only so many things you can do.”
What this Brewer team did most frequently through out its nomadic regular season of home games on the road and practices in the gym was win.
The victory over Bangor improved the Witches’ record to 13-3 — including 11-3 away from home — and leaves the team at least temporarily atop the Class A North Heal Point standings.
Whether Brewer finishes first or second likely depends on how second-place Oxford Hills of South Paris fares in its regular-season finale at Mt. Ararat of Topsham on Thursday afternoon.
Either way, the team already has surpassed the expectations of many who follow Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference baseball most keenly.
“We weren’t on the radar at all,” said coach Corey. “Nobody had us pegged. Edward Little, Oxford Hills, Messalonskee and Bangor, those were the teams people were looking to be challenging at the top.
“It was nice in a way. I’m a quiet person so I enjoy being under the radar, and the kids felt the same way. This team has kind of taken on the demeanor of (assistant) coach (Dennis) Kiah and myself and (assistant) coach (Chris) McGrath as far as the intensity goes but also staying in control and not getting too high and not getting too low.”
That demeanor may have its foundation in experience, both among the veteran coaching staff and a playing roster anchored by its senior class, including pitching aces Jack Corey and Alex Brooks and classmate Alex Maxsimic’s steadying presence behind the plate.
“We’re very confident, especially with how we played (Tuesday),” said Jack Corey after Brewer avenged a 1-0 loss at Bangor in their earlier meeting on April 24. “They’re a really good team, and coming into this we knew it was going to be a battle and seeing that we could pull it out was great.”
Perhaps the best by-product of the Senior Night victory was that it earned Brewer as many as two more home games in the playoffs, beginning with a regional quarterfinal on June 8.
A win in that game would bring a semifinal to Heddericg Field on June 10, and while these Witches are steeled from a spring full of road trips, they’re also game to reap the benefits of a home-field advantage they haven’t been used to having this year.
“Having it at home just makes it 100 times better,” said Jack Corey. “Our crowds are always awesome, they’re always loud, they’re always confident in every single one of us and I know come playoff time it’s going to be even better.”