AUGUSTA — At this point, most central Mainers will take all of the signs of spring they can get. So the first day of pitchers and catchers in high school baseball and softball offered a welcome antidote to the snow and whipping Arctic winds on Monday, even if practice had to be confined to the gym.

Players didn’t need to peek out the window at the bright sunshine to see some light at the end of the cold, dark tunnel.

“It’s typical Maine weather,” Cony senior catcher Tayler Carrier said. “It doesn’t matter. We’ll get outside and throw in parking lots and stretch it out eventually.”

Monday was the unofficial first day of the spring high school sports season. Baseball and softball teams are allowed to have up to 10 pitchers and catchers participate in this week’s sessions. Full squads, and practices for all other spring sports, start next Monday. The season opens April 16, but Cony baseball and softball open their seasons April 22 at Oxford Hills.

Cony’s baseball and softball batteries have particular reason to be eager to get the 2015 season underway. Both came within one run of beating the eventual state champions in their respective Eastern A tournaments (baseball lost 1-0 to Bangor in the semifinals, softball 3-2 to Skowhegan in the final).

“There’s always good vibes around the start of softball season,” senior pitcher Arika Brochu said. “Especially pitchers and catchers. You get to focus on probably the most important part of the game.”

Cony baseball coach Don Plourde’s team lost two starters, but they were his top two pitchers, Payton Kennison and Mitchell Bonenfant. Both were a big part of the Rams’ success last season, which ended with the Rams winning eight of their last 10 games. But Plourde has a number of options to take the ball this year.

“Certainly, those guys will be missed,” he said. “But at the same time, we have some great arms coming back.”

Justin Rodrigue and Thomas Foster are the most experienced among them, but southpaw Anthony Brunelle, Mitchell Caron, Tyler Tardiff and Carrier should see plenty of time on the bump, Plourde said.

Carrier, a four-year starter at catcher and one of the top backstops in Class A, thinks the Rams should be able to pick up where they left off last spring with this year’s pitching staff.

“I’ve been with all of these guys since we started playing tee-ball, and I’ve caught all of them all of the way up through and I’ve got great confidence in all of them,” he said. “Each of them brings something different to the table on the mound.”

The softball team brings back its ace in Brochu, who led the Rams to the top seed in Eastern A and a 15-4 record last season. But coach Rocky Gaslin has to replace most of his infield, including the catching spot.

“We definitely want to fill that spot as soon as possible,” Brochu said. “It’s definitely key to be able to communicate.”

Brochu practiced every Sunday with her travel team and also did some throwing on the side throughout the winter, so getting her arm loose Monday wasn’t a problem. It’s not uncommon for pitchers in both sports to start the season with their arms already stretched out. But coaches still prefer to err on the side of caution.

“The biggest thing is injury prevention,” Plourde said. “You want to get out of this week where you’ve gotten some reps in, but at the same time you haven’t cost yourself a couple of weeks because a kid threw harder than he needed to.”

Plourde will limit all of his pitchers to 15 pitches during each of this week’s sessions. That number will gradually increase to 60-70 pitches by the start of the season.

“This week’s all about setting the tone,” Plourde said. “We want to start off working hard and working on fundamentals. You can’t win a state title in March. You can’t put the cart in front of the horse. I think that’s the one thing that’s evolved for me over the years. You want to do everything right away, but it’s a process.”

Gaslin has the luxury of starting that process with a proven winner to anchor his team in Brochu.

“Arika was the top pitcher in the league (Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference) last year, so we can build off of that, that’s for sure,” Gaslin said. “She’s a good leader, a hard worker and, of course, a good athlete.”

Even with that ace in the circle, Gaslin would just as soon ease into the season. If that means it takes a little longer for spring to get here, so be it.

“Actually, I don’t mind being inside, because this facility is such a large facility,” he said. “We’ll have the batting cages up next week. We can do tons of stations where the kids will get a lot of practice in. They’ll be able to handle the ball a lot, work on a lot of situations, a lot of rundowns. There are a lot of different things you can do in this gym.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33


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