SANFORD — It was the top of the ninth inning, and Sanford Mainers pitcher Jake Dexter took the mound. As Dexter warmed up using his sidearm delivery, the chords of Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along The Watchtower” began to echo throughout Goodall Park. The song was slightly ominous and foreshadowing, and was the perfect entrance music for Dexter. If what the Messalonskee High School grad has done to hitters throughout the New England Collegiate Baseball League this summer is a harbinger of his upcoming season at the University of Southern Maine, hitters throughout the Little East Conference also will squirm when they hear Hendrix cover Bob Dylan.

“He’s a matchup nightmare for teams. I don’t think anybody likes to see 13 (Dexter’s number) warming up in the bullpen,” Chris Morris, Sanford’s manager, said.

This summer stint with the Mainers is Dexter’s first opportunity to focus just on pitching, and he’s excelled. As the key to Sanford’s bullpen, Dexter is 2-0 with a 2.16 earned run average. He’s pitched 33 1/3 innings in 23 games, striking out 33 while walking just 12 and surrendering 25 hits. Opponents are hitting a scant .210 off Dexter. His ERA is currently fifth-best in the league, and on Sunday, Dexter will represent Sanford in the NECBL All-Star Game, in North Adams, Massachusetts.

“He’s good because, he never changes his motion. He gets the ball and he throws,” Tim Corey, Sanford’s pitching coach, said of Dexter. “Whatever happens, he gets the ball back and comes right at guys and throws strikes.”

Dexter entered Wednesday’s game against the Winnipesaukee Muskrats in the top of the ninth, with the score tied, 5-5. Before the game, Morris said Dexter would get a chance to close, but with the game knotted, he needed Dexter to keep the Muskrats off the board and give the Mainers a chance to win in the bottom of the inning. Dexter got out of the inning with 13 pitches, nine for strikes. After giving up a one-out single to Michael DeMartino, a soft line drive just out of the reach of Sanford shortstop Ryland Kerr, Dexter buckled down. He struck out Josh Goulet looking on a knee-high fastball before ending the inning and Winnipesaukee’s last chance with a Tyler Bielanowicz flyball to right field. In the bottom of the ninth, Sanford loaded the bases with nobody out. Ray Harrison scored the winning run on a Bryan Sturges grounder to third base, giving Dexter his second win of the season and the Mainers their fourth consecutive victory.

As a sophomore last spring at USM, Dexter was an everyday infielder as well as the Huskies’ closer. Dexter saved 12 games, a USM record. At the plate, Dexter hit. 356 with 36 runs scored, earning second team All-America status as a utility player. When he was named to the Mainers roster, it was determined Dexter would focus on pitching. As the Mainers began the season shorthanded waiting for a few players to arrive from their college teams, Dexter started as Sanford’s designated hitter in the season opener as North Adams. He’s been the rock of the bullpen since.

“It’s definitely been an adjustment for him, just because he is such a tremendous athlete,” Morris said. “I think it’s really helped him really focus on that craft, just being a pitcher and being able to think like a pitcher every single day. You look at his numbers, and I think it’s the reason he’s excelled so fast in that role. I’m really proud of how he accepted it and challenged himself to make sure his body’s right and ready to go every single night.”

“I had an idea I would just be mainly pitching,” Dexter said. “It’s been different, but you get to watch the game and learn a lot from just watching. That’s helpful.”

Dexter’s right-handed sidearm throwing motion makes it tough for hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand. To a right-handed hitter, Dexter’s ball looks as if it’s coming right at them, before it darts across the plate.

“It’s different, because a lot of sidearmers, the ball will run to the arm side, sideways, but his ball goes down, too. That was the biggest thing for me to get used to,” Sturges, a catcher who recently completed his first season at Texas Christian University, said. “I tell kids it’s tough to catch, so I know it’s hard to hit.”

Dexter began to feel comfortable pitching against NECBL hitters in a June 23 game against Danbury. That day, Dexter threw four innings of relief, allowing one hit while striking out six. That outing helped spark an 11-inning scoreless streak Dexter carried over six games.

“That got the ball rolling. I got my confidence and feel back,” Dexter said. “I was kind of tentative a little bit. I’ve been going after guys a little bit more.”

Dexter’s best pitch is his sinking fastball, which he typically throws between 85 and 88 miles per hour.

“He lets it go some nights, and you’re like, ‘Oh wow,’ and he takes some off it some nights. I think that’s what makes him so effective,” Morris said. “Every pitch isn’t the same. It’s hard to time. It’s hard to adjust to. One hitter sees one fastball, the next time they see him it’s a completely different pitch.”

A graduate of Colby College, Corey has known Dexter for eight years, and remembers the kid tagging along with his father, former Colby baseball coach Tom Dexter.

“One thing that’s never changed is, he eats, sleeps and drinks baseball. He’s always been around us. Baseball is what he knows. It’s what he does, and he’s very good at it,” Corey said. “He’s grown a lot and come into his own as a player. He’s got that killer instinct not a lot of people have. It’s fun to see when he gets the ball in his hand.”

That killer instinct is Dexter’s biggest asset on the mound. Simply put, when Dexter pitches, he’s mean.

“Vicious,” Sturges said. “Pretty much get out of my face and let’s go. It’s the competitive nature he has on the mound. He knows he’s better than whoever he’s facing… He has good stuff, but the biggest thing is, he’s competitive. Off the field, if you know him, he’s one of the nicest kids ever. But once he gets on the mound, he’s a bulldog. You get scared to talk to him. He’s just a flat-out competitor.”

Added Morris: “He’s definitely a bulldog on the mound. I think other teams know that. Our guys know that. When he takes the mound, I really feel like our team takes a completely different spin, as far as how we play the game. We just feed off of his energy and his competitive drive.”

At 17-23 entering Thursday night’s game against the Upper Valley Nighthawks, Sanford is 2.5 games behind the Keene Swamp Bats for the final playoff spot in the NECBL North Division with five games to play in the regular season. Unless the Mainers continue their hot streak and get a little help, the season ends next week. With 13 career saves, Dexter enters his junior season at USM six saves short of the school’s career record, 19, held by Andrew Richards. The record doesn’t concern Dexter. Helping the Huskies win games is what matters.

“I’ll just take what I learned here right into USM and put it in my game, see what happens,” Dexter said. “I’ll keep working, and see how we do.”

At USM, somebody should make sure “All Along The Watchtower” is already downloaded on an athletic department iPod.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM