WINSLOW — Alex Berard was already a good athlete. The Winslow High School baseball team needed him to become a good shortstop.

At the start of the 2014 season, the Black Raiders had a hole at shortstop. Longtime starter Don Camp had graduated, and there was no obvious replacement. The coaches looked at possible candidates, and they focused on Berard, a junior who had played mostly right field the previous season.

“We definitely had a hole there, and we decided that (Berard’s) a natural athlete. That’s a really athletic position. We tried him out there, and he did a really nice job,” Aaron Wolfe, who was an assistant coach with Winslow last season before becoming head coach this spring, said. “He’s really embraced that role and done a good job for us.”

Now a senior, Berard is the defensive anchor the Black Raiders need in the middle of the infield, and a key bat in the middle of the lineup. His play in the field and at the plate were keys to Winslow’s 3-1 upset win over previously unbeaten Old Town in the Eastern Class B semifinals on Saturday. Berard and the Black Raiders will take on Camden Hills in the regional final on Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor.

“Growing up, I played all over the place. My favorite was first base,” Berard said. “If they stuck me somewhere, I took it. I just wanted to play.”

Learning to field his new position, getting in front of the ball and making the throw to first base, was an adjustment for Berard.

“Outfield is a little different. It’s all pop flies. When you’re at short, you get the balls a little harder and faster at you. Next thing you know, you get a crazy hop at you. You try to keep it in front the best you can,” Berard said. “I started to kind of like it a little bit. I got more action, and it felt a little better. I struggled last year and at the beginning of this year a little bit, but the last couple of games, it’s coming along a lot better. I just feel a lot more comfortable than I have in the past.”

Wolfe said Berard’s defense has steadily improved, particularly when he has to attack a slow grounder.

“We’ve worked on that throughout the season, charging the ball quickly, releasing the ball quickly. That’s something, not as a natural shortstop, with repetitions you get better at,” Wolfe said.

Berard’s defensive improvement was apparent in Saturday’s game at Old Town. Winslow starting pitcher Jake Trask kept the ball low, inducing 11 ground ball outs. Berard fielded five chances cleanly, and his diving play to knock down an Eric Hoogterp line drive up the middle saved a run and kept the game tied at 1-1 in the third inning.

With runners on first and third base with one out, Hoogterp’s line drive would have given the Coyotes the lead. Berard was able to knock the ball down and keep it in the infield, and second baseman Spencer Miranda was able to grab the ball and step on second base for the force out. The play forced Old Town’s Tyler Young to stay at third base, and one batter later, Winslow escaped the inning without allowing a run.

“I just dove and tried to keep in front. The next thing I know, the ball bounces out of my glove and Spencer’s right there to pick it up and get the guy at second. It saved a run. It saved the inning from getting out of control,” Berard said.

“He played a great game against Old Town. He made quite a few plays in that game,” Wolfe said of Berard.

With the recent move of Robbie Petrovic from the outfield to third base, Berard is the only starter back from 2014 in the Winslow infield. His steady play has helped newcomers Jon Nerney at first base, Miranda at second, and now Petrovic at third.

“I’m just seeing the ball cleanly, getting my feet ready, and taking a nice step and throw right to Jon Jon (Nerney) at first,” Berard said.

As Winslow’s cleanup hitter, Berard hit .322 in the regular season, with 26 runs batted in, second most on the team.

“He’s been consistently getting big hits. He drives the ball to all fields,” Wolfe said.

With two of the hitters in front of Berard in the lineup hitting over .500 (Ben Smith at .518 and Dylan Hapworth at .554), Berard has made the most of his opportunities to drive in runs. Berard’s fifth inning single at Old Town scored Hapworth with the eventual game-winning run. A right-handed hitter, Berard went with the pitch and drove it to right field.

“I feel like I hit better when I’ve got guys in scoring position. I just feel a little more comfortable then,” Berard said. “Lately I’ve been trying to work the counts the best I can, try to get the pitcher to throw me a nice pitch.”

In the fall, Berard will enroll at Thomas College, where he plans on joining the Terriers’ soccer team. Berard also is considering playing hockey with the Thomas club program. When the Black Raiders baseball season ends, Berard is likely done playing competitive baseball. As the Black Raiders celebrated Saturday’s win at Old Town, Berard’s thoughts turned to the 2013 Eastern Class B final, in which Winslow beat Waterville to advance to the state championship game.

“It feels great to go back to Mansfield and hopefully get a chance to play for another (title), and my last one. It’s exciting, and it’s fun. It’s what we play for,” Berard said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM