Follow along closely. The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A baseball division is a circle of parity.
Hampden beat Cony. Cony beat Brunswick. Brunswick beat Lawrence. Lawrence beat Lewiston, Lewiston beat Oxford Hills. Oxford Hills beat Bangor. Bangor beat Brewer. Brewer beat Mt. Blue. Mt. Blue beat Mt. Ararat. Mt. Ararat beat Messalonskee. Messalonskee beat Skowhegan. Skowhegan beat Edward Little. Edward Little beat Hampden.
“I’ve been (coaching) for 18 years, and this is the first year I’ve seen a league this close,” Cony head coach Don Plourde said. “It’s not a bad thing.”
The case can be made that, this season, the KVAC A is the most competitive league in the state. Through Wednesday, 28 games in the KVAC A were decided by one or two runs. Mt. Blue had a stretch of six in seven games decided by one or two runs. Six of Edward Little’s first 10 games were decided by one or two runs.
Even Mt. Ararat, which entered Wednesday with one win and in last place in the league’s Heal point standings, can pull off a big win, as it did by beating then-top ranked Messalonskee, 7-4.
“There are some great players in the league,” Skowhegan head coach Rick York said, “but everyone’s pretty equal. It’s baseball. When everyone’s equal, you get a lot of close games.”
With only a quarter of the season left to play, each of the 13 teams in the conference has a shot at one of the nine playoff spots. Brewer, which sat in 13th place on Thursday morning, was just nine points out of the ninth spot. A win over Oxford Hills or Bangor, and the Witches would leapfrog a few teams into contention.
“All these games make a big difference,” York said.
The question is, how did the KVAC A become so competitive? There could be a few reasons.
Lawrence head coach Rusty Mercier said the BBCOR bats, which lessen the trampoline effect of a batted ball, have cut down on power. Now it’s rare for one slugger to change a game with a home run. The stronger hitting teams don’t thump opponents with a conga line of extra base hits the way they used to, and that means lighter hitting teams that rely on small ball tactics, bunting and baserunning, can stay in more close games.
“Pitching and defense can keep you in games a lot more,” Mercier said.
Both Plourde and York said each team has one or two strong pitchers. Good pitchers, not dominant. York said he’s seen more balls put in play this season, and with that, more errors.
“I’ve seen more errors this year than in any of my eight years coaching,” York said. “You’ve got to play all summer long to get better, and kids aren’t playing all summer anymore.”
That’s a problem that has plagued baseball for some time. Many athletes divide their summer among two or more sports. A baseball player may miss American Legion or Babe Ruth games to compete with a summer basketball, soccer or ice hockey team.
“We have some really good kids who are committed to baseball, but the same kids are committed to two or three sports,” Mercier said.
Maybe this season is just one of those rare years in which there’s no great teams and no bad teams in the league. There are just 13 teams, and each has a shot.
“I don’t think it’s anything you can put a finger on. It’s a year where nobody is that far ahead of anybody else,” Plourde said.
The regular season ends June 4. From now until then, it’s a sprint to try and pile up Heal points and make the playoffs.
“The next four out of five teams we play are ahead of us in Heals,” York said before Wednesday’s game at Brunswick (a 1-0 Brunswick win). “We have to knock some of them off. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Once the playoffs start, if it’s like the regular season, hold onto your hats.”