The pitch is going to hit you in the shoulder. You’re sure of it. You turn your head, wincing before the anticipated impact.
The impact never comes. At the last second, the baseball cuts away, dropping over the outside corner of the plate. If the umpire didn’t flinch, too (and sometimes they do), it’s a strike.
You’ve just been introduced to Dylan Hapworth’s curveball. Sorry, Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B baseball players, but you’ve got two more years of this.
“I’ve always thrown a curveball. I get a real, tight grip on it. People usually like a loose grip. I like it tight because I have small hands. I just snap it off,” Hapworth said.
During his sophomore season at Winslow High School, Hapworth emerged as the top player in the KVAC B. On the mound or at the plate, Hapworth was a player few wanted to face, and he was named conference Player of the Year by the league’s coaches.
For his efforts in helping the Black Raiders win the Eastern Maine Class B title, Dylan Hapworth is the Morning Sentinel Baseball Player of the Year. Winslow center fielder Gabe Smith and Waterville pitcher Brian Bellows were also considered.
“He definitely seems a step above most players,” Winslow coach Jesse LaCasse said of Hapworth.
Complimenting Hapworth’s curveball is a fastball that he throws around 86 miles per hour. Hapworth went 6-0 for the Black Raiders this season, including two wins in the playoffs, with a 0.85 earned run average. In 41 innings, Hapworth struck out 66 hitters. He allowed just 14 hits and 12 walks.
Hapworth ended the season with a 29 inning scoreless streak. That’s the equivalent of just over four seven inning high school games. In his last 26 innings of the season, Hapworth gave up five hits.
“He’s throwing in the upper 80s, then he brings that hard, sharp curveball. I haven’t seen that sharp a curve in high school. He buzzes one of those (fastballs), then drops that curve,” LaCasse said. “That’s tough to hit.”
Hapworth took a perfect game into the sixth inning in a win at Camden Hills on May 17, but his best game of the season came in the Eastern B semifinals, in a 4-0 win over defending regional champion Foxcroft Academy. Hapworth allowed two hits and one walk, and struck out 12.
“We ran into a pitcher who had his best stuff,” Foxcroft coach Mark Chevalier said after the game.
Added Hapworth: “Camden was just another game. Foxcroft, we were playing for something. It was a playoff game.”
As a freshman, Hapworth introduced himself to the league by belting five home runs. This season, the word was out. Don’t throw Hapworth a fastball.
“He was pitched around most of the season. He saw no fastballs down the middle. Pitchers stayed away from him,” LaCasse said.
Hapworth saw a steady stream of breaking balls, and while it slowed his offensive production, it didn’t stop it. Hapworth hit .300 with 12 runs batted in and 24 runs scored.
“I struggled a lot, hitting,” Hapworth said. “I was just missing pitches. My swing was really long. I kept trying to hit the ball hard and high. I need to keep my head on the ball.”
When not on the mound, Hapworth played either third base or shortstop, both relatively new positions for him.
“His whole life, he’s been an outfielder. He has the range, the arm strength and the speed. I needed him in the infield. He plays third base and shortstop. He looks like a natural,” LaCasse said. “At third, he’s not afraid to take it off the chest. You don’t see it often in high school kids.”
“I like third. I like how it’s quick and everything’s fast. I like having no time to think about it. At short, you can get a bad hop and think about it too much,” Hapworth said.
This summer, Hapworth is playing for two teams. He’s a member of the Post 51 American Legion team, and also plays for the South Portland-based Southern Maine Tomahawks, an AAU team that plays games across the Northeast.
“We play the best players from New England. I just got back from Cape Cod. The week before that I was in Staten Island. It’s good competition,” said Hapworth, now in his third season with the Tomahawks. “Kids throw a lot harder. Every game, somebody’s throwing 90.”
When he’s not playing with either team, Hapworth is still working on his game.
“Every Saturday, I’m out at the field, hitting balls with my grandfather (John Harrison),” Hapworth said.
Hang in there, KVAC. It’s just two more years.
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242