Rick York talked to his pitchers about this exact situation. With an 0-2 count, throw a pitch in the dirt, or high and outside. Maybe the hitter will chase a bad pitch. Cody Moody, Skowhegan’s pitcher, did exactly what York had coached him to do. His pitch was high and outside.

But this time, the hitter was Sam Dexter. A four-year starter at Messalonskee High School, Dexter lined the pitch into right field for a two-out single. The hit ignited a three-run rally in the top of the seventh inning, pushing the Eagles’ two-run lead to five, and putting the game out of reach.

“Sammy just drove it to right field,” York said. “It’s been a pleasure to watch him for four years, and trying to figure out how to stop him… He has respect for the game, and I love to see that.”

This spring, Dexter capped a strong high school career by leading the Eagles to their first Class A baseball state championship, and their first since winning Class B in 1973.

Dexter was a finalist for the Dr. John Winkin Award, given annually to the best senior in the state. For all his efforts, Sam Dexter is the Morning Sentinel Baseball Player of the Year. Waterville’s J.T. Whitten, also a finalist for the Winkin Award, also was considered.

Dexter had a .475 batting average, scored 24 runs and drove in 16 more. His on-base percentage was .568, and his slugging percentage was .729. As Messalonskee’s shortstop, Dexter showed as much range as any player in the state.

“It was a lot of fun. I put in a lot of hard work, and hard work is rewarded with the right attitude and a lot of drive,” Dexter said. “Just not making excuses for not working out, for getting extra swings, for getting extra reps, I think that’s what really helped me. Just wanting to get better. I just wanted to win, and it really paid off in the end.”

This is the third Morning Sentinel Player of the Year honor earned by Dexter in the 2011-12 school year. Dexter won football honors after gaining more than 1,700 all-purpose yards, scoring 21 touchdowns, and grabbing six interceptions. Dexter was ice hockey player of the year after scoring 48 goals and 31 assists in 22 games to help the Eagles win the Eastern B title.

In all three sports, Dexter was his conference player of the year. On June 22,  Dexter was named the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram Boys Athlete of the Year.

“He’s done everything. He’s a great, great young man to coach. Forget about his athletic ability. He’s just a great kid,” Messalonskee baseball coach Ray Bernier said. “For someone who has the talent and the achievements he’s had, it’s amazing how he’s so humble. In fact, he doesn’t really want to talk about an award of something like that. He just wants to play the game.”

Baseball is where Dexter’s athletic future lies. Next year, he’ll play for the University of Southern Maine.

“Baseball is a challenging sport,” Dexter said. “There’s so many different ways you can better yourself in the game. I love working out, there’s so many different parts of the game. It takes a lot of mental stability, and I just love it.”

Recently, the Dexter family watched some old home movies that had been transferred to DVD. There was one of Sam, barely a year old, swinging a baseball bat.

“I had a little bat, and my dad was throwing me a couple pitches. It was cool to see that. And my dad, he looked into the camera and he said ‘He’s going to be a slugger,’ ” Dexter said. “I was no older than 1-year old. I was a little guy, just barely walking. That was kind of special. That was cool to see.”

Messalonskee baseball records are spotty, but Bernier guesses Dexter holds most, if not all, the school’s hitting marks. Dexter graduated with a lifetime batting average over .450. His down year, his sophomore season, Dexter hit .390.

“He came in on such a tear as a freshman. He matured, looking for pitches and knowing when to swing,” Bernier said. “As the years continued, he became more of a pull hitter. His early years, he went a lot the opposite way.”

Defensively, Dexter anchored one of the best infields in the state. In the state championship game against Scarborough, with Messalonskee holding a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning, Dexter made the play of the game, diving to his left to not only field the ball, but to start a double play. Scarborough’s chance at a rally was over, and fans from both sides couldn’t believe what they just saw.

“He made some of the most astounding plays I’ve seen,” Bernier said. “He came up big a lot of times.”

Dexter said his biggest improvements didn’t come on the field, but in the dugout, as he became a team leader and captain. The biggest games are when Dexter’s leadership shined.

“I usually tell the guys before a game, ‘You know, it’s just another game.’ It really is, it’s just another game… I try not to pick at guys, but I will make comments to guys personally, not in front of the whole team. If your main goal is to have fun with each game, you’re going to have some success,” Dexter said. “That’s why I think we were able to have that big inning against Scarborough. Never getting down. Never losing faith, never losing hope. That’s kind of how I was raised by my parents (Tom and Sarah Dexter), and I think that’s helped me greatly.”

While Dexter doesn’t seem to care much about accolades, those around him certainly do.

“I’m still dumbfounded why he’s not John Winkin Award (winner). I’m really disappointed in that sense,” Bernier said. “That one I really wanted him to get.”

Following the football season, Dexter was at the center of what became the biggest controversy in recent years involving the Fitzpatrick Trophy. The Fitzpatrick Trophy is awarded annually to the top high school football player in Maine, and as the season closed, it was assumed by many high school football observers around the state that Dexter would be on the ballot.

When he wasn’t, messages boards lit up with the cries of those who believed Dexter was snubbed. For his part, Dexter  shook it off.

“I try to stay out of that stuff. People mentioned it to me. I think it’s cool that people were that upset about it and thought that I was deserving. It was out of my control. I just played my 10 games as hard as I could,” Dexter said.

Dexter said USM coach Ed Flaherty has told him he could see time in the infield next season. To prepare, Dexter is playing for the Post 51 American Legion team this summer.

“Every day goes by, I get more anxious. I’m just really excited to get there,” Dexter said. “It comes down to, I still have to keep working hard. I’ve got to keep practicing. I think I can only get better from here on out, and I think Southern Maine is a great spot for me.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242
[email protected]

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