Without a senior on his roster, Monmouth Academy baseball coach Eric Palleschi expected a few ups and downs this season. The outlook grew much bleaker when he learned his shortstop and second baseman were lost for the year due to injuries before the season even started.

The Mustangs are 3-10 with two games remaining, but they’ve played every team in the Mountain Valley Conference well with the exception of Dirigo and Telstar. Seven of their losses have been by three runs or less, including three by one run.

“We’re battling,” Palleschi said. “We just don’t have the experience in the situations where we need experience.”

Certainly the injured sophomores, Brandon Goff and D.J. McHugh, would have helped. They play short and second, respectively, and would have been the team’s No. 2 and 3 pitchers.

“Taking those two (leadership) pieces out is even more important than their gloves,” Palleschi said.

The three returning starters — sophomore Kyle Fletcher and juniors Billy Cummings and Josh Fournier — have all played well. Fletcher and Fournier both pitch and have hit well while Cummings is back for his third season as the Mustangs’ starting catcher.

“We’ve gotten good pitching this year,” Palleschi said. “Kyle’s battled, Josh has battled and Nate Gagne has stepped up and pitched well. He’s learning on the go. Also Alex Curtis has thrown.”

The absence of Goff and McHugh has given others a chance to play and improve and the most dramatic change since the beginning of the season has been on defense.

“We’ve cut down on errors,” Palleschi said. “At the beginning of the year we were averaging six errors a game, now we’re down to one or two. We went from having two bad innings to one bad inning.”

The hitting has come along slowly. Although Fletcher, Cummings, Curtis and Fournier have all hit, the bottom of the order has not produced.

“We’ve faced everybody’s best (pitcher),” Palleschi said. “It’s been great.”

Palleschi expects that to change. He has 19 players in his program and all are expected back, and that includes Goff and McHugh. Many are still playing Babe Ruth ball while Fletcher will play American Legion, and hopefully Fournier and Gagne will, too.

There are over 200 kids in youth baseball and softball teams in Monmouth on 21 different teams. The future appears bright, both in the long and short term.

• • •

Both Cony and Erskine are 9-5 heading into today’s matchup in South China. Erskine is coming off a tough 2-1, eight-inning loss to Lewiston in which Corbin Hyde threw a no-hitter against the Eagles.

Cony beat Brunswick on Monday and had a bye Wednesday. Last Friday, the Rams had their eight-game win streak snapped with a 4-1 loss at Hampden.

“What we’ve been through, the hole we dug ourselves out of made us even stronger,” Cony coach Don Plourde said.

Cony won the first meeting, 6-2 in Augusta, when junior Zack Lachance pitched out of several jams to get the win. Lachance (3-3) will get the start today while Erskine coach Lars Jonassen said he’s going with senior Tom Grady.

Plourde has put together a team that returned four starters and now includes two freshmen in the starting lineup and another occasionally on the mound. Of the five seniors on the team, two, Chase Shostak and Ryan Edwards, started last season. Edwards plays second base and pitches while Shostak has moved from catcher to center field.

“Chase gets great jumps on some balls and has really made some plays for us,” Plourde said.

Shostak is flanked by seniors Simon Yorks in left and Justin Ellis in right while another senior Jake Harriman, also has some outfield starts.

“They’ve played great defensively,” Plourde said.

• • •

Hall-Dale coach Tim Johnson knew what had to be fixed for his team to be successful this season and his Bulldogs have responded. With their win against Winthrop on Wednesday, they are 11-3 in Mountain Valley Conference play and arguably the surprise team in the conference.

Johnson, who is the school’s athletic director, returned for his fifth stint as head coach this season and had some alarming statistics to deal with from last year.

“I know the numbers by heart,” he said. “Seventy-seven walks, 47 errors and 12 extra base hits.”

The Bulldogs have improved dramatically in all three areas, enough so that Johnson sees parallels with the unbeaten 2001 team he coached to the Class C state championship, particularly with his pitchers throwing strikes and his defense making plays.

“I’m not saying this is the 2001 team but there are certainly similarities,” he said.

The team is relatively young. Ben Crocker and Brad Shepherd are the only seniors and both have been key contributors both in the field and with the bat. The Bulldogs also use their team speed, not only to cover ground in the outfield, but to run the bases. In Wednesday’s win, they stole nine bases.

“We knew what we had to get better at,” Johnson said. “We can do a little bit of everything and we don’t beat ourselves.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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