Even before the Winslow High School baseball team left the gym and went outside, coach Jesse LaCasse senses the Black Raiders had potential.
“I saw the type of pitching depth we had, with Logan (Hewes), Dylan (Hapworth) and (Don) Camp,” LaCasse said. “I saw the type of swings we had. A lot of times, you might get six or seven guys you get excited about, but I was excited about a lot of guys.”
LaCasse was right to be excited. The Black Raiders won their first 10 games, and won a thrilling extra inning game over rival Waterville for the Eastern Maine Class B championship, before falling to York in the state title game. In just his second season as head coach, LaCasse had Winslow back among the top teams in the state.
“He’s pretty outgoing,” senior center fielder Gabe Smith said of LaCasse. “He’s passionate about baseball.”
For coaching Winslow to its first regional title since 2007, LaCasse is the Morning Sentinel Baseball Coach of the Year. Also considered were Ray Bernier, who led Messalonskee to a second consecutive Eastern Maine Class A championship, Skowhegan’s Rick York, the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A North Coach of the Year, and Don Sawyer, whose Waterville team reached the Eastern B final for the fifth straight season.
Among his coaching influences, LaCasse cites St. Joseph’s College coach Will Sanborn, his college coach.
“I definitely model a lot of what we do around stuff I did at St. Joe’s,” LaCasse said.
A 2003 graduate, LaCasse still holds St. Joe’s career records in doubles (59), runs batted in (182), slugging (.795), OPS (1.300), extra base hits (107) and total bases (410), and he’s in the top five Monks in a number of other categories. With the Black Raiders, LaCasse is able to translate his ability to hit into teaching how to hit.
“He clearly knows what he’s talking about,” Smith said.
“By the time we’d leave practice, we ended up taking over 100 swings, with different types of bats,” junior first baseman Zach Guptill said.
Another influence on LaCasse’s coaching style is Mirko Heid, the head coach of the Bonn Capitals of the German Bundesliga. LaCasse met Heid in the mid-2000s when he coached and played professional baseball in Germany.
“Because of the love of soccer in Germany, you have to do everything you can to keep baseball fun,” LaCasse said.
To that end, LaCasse fills Winslow practice time with games. Hitting games include contests in which the Black Raiders earn points for situational hitting, successful hit and runs, sacrifice bunts or sacrifice flies. Defensive games include points for outfielders who catch the ball in the air, on one hop, or make a diving snag.
“To get us in a nice, calm mood, we’d play games where we’d focus on hitting line drives,” Guptill said.
LaCasse credited assistant coach Aaron Wolfe for his role in scouting opponents and developing Winslow’s pitchers.
“That’s a great help. It’s not my No. 1 area,” LaCasse said.
In games, LaCasse shows confidence in his club and nowhere was that more apparent than in the Eastern Maine championship, when the Black Raiders entered the bottom of the seventh inning trailing Waterville, 2-1. Smith doesn’t remember LaCasse giving a rah-rah speech before the inning. Winslow scored the tying run and went on to score the game-winner in the ninth inning.
“He was confident. We were confident we could score the run,” Smith said.
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242