Russ Beckwith didn’t expect a slew of graduating players to derail his Gardiner baseball team. Nor did he expect some bad luck early in the season to do the same.

“We knew the potential of the group,” he said. “It was just a question of getting them to see it.”

The Tigers have been seeing it lately. Wednesday’s 11-1 victory over Maine Central Institute made it eight straight victories for Gardiner, which has climbed into the second spot in the Class B North Heal points at 9-3.

“They’re a much hungrier group than they were in the beginning of the year, now that they’ve tasted success,” Beckwith said. “For us, it was a natural progression of coming together. … It just took a little bit of time for us to meld as a group and get contributions from everyone in the lineup.”

Things were dreary at the start of the year for the Tigers, who began 1-3 with those losses coming by a total of five runs. It would have been easy to chalk the stumbles up to growing pains after 10 players moved on in the offseason, but Beckwith knew better. And he made sure his team knew it, too.

“Knowing what we had for guys … we looked at this year as a re-load, with similar expectations to what the program has been in the past,” he said. “We came together as a group and discussed that we had multiple situations where a bloop single could have changed the outcome of any of the games.”

With the message hammered home that the start wasn’t as bad as the standings may have indicated, the Tigers went to work making up for it. The biggest improvement has come at the plate; held to 10 runs in the first four games (an average of 2.5 per contest), the Tigers have scored 83 in the eight wins (an average of 10.4), and have reached double figures six times.

“Everybody’s had their day. We haven’t leaned on a single individual,” Beckwith said. “From game to game, we’ve had contributions from different guys and different parts of our lineup. … I think the biggest thing was just getting into the swing of live pitching and making those adjustments to pitching at the varsity level. Once they realized that every one of them was capable of contributing, they started to click. And right now, they continue to click.”

Confidence is high, but Beckwith said the team hasn’t gotten carried away.

“We haven’t had that ‘winning is guaranteed’ mentality,” he said. “We feel we still have a lot to prove, and we need to show we can play with everybody that we (face).”

• • •

Like Gardiner in B North, Maranacook in B South has found its way back in the standings via the batter’s box.

The Black Bears have put themselves back in the race for playoff positioning, winning three of their last four games after starting the season 1-4. The key to the change in fortune has been the lineup, which has generated 27 runs in the past four games after putting up 13 in the first five.

“We have a young team, and we just needed to get some experience, get some at-bats at the varsity level,” coach Eric Brown said. “We might be a warm weather team. The games where we haven’t hit, it’s been cold. But I think the biggest factor is they just needed experience at the varisty level.”

Hits were few and far between early, resulting in one spoiled outing after another for pitchers Chris Florek and Dan Garand. Garand has been particularly victimized, the hard-throwing right-hander is 1-3 for the year, getting a total of three runs of support in the three losses.

“I was getting worried, because we hadn’t been producing,” Brown said. “I was hoping we would come around, and hopefully we are. It’s hard to say where we’re at. But we weren’t scoring runs early on, and you get nervous in that regard.”

Brown made a lineup switch at the heart of the order, moving Florek from the fifth to the third spot, Garand from third to cleanup and Nick Bowie from the fourth to the fifth spot. Since then, the bats have heated up. Maranacook notched a 5-4 win over Belfast, a 10-3 win over MCI and a 9-0 victory over Lincoln Academy. If not for a seventh-inning breakdown by the normally reliable defense in a 6-3 loss to Morse, the Black Bears could be looking at a four-game winning streak.

Everybody’s been hitting, Brown said, with Garand, Avery Beckwith and Max McQuillen among the top contributors.

“With the more experience, it seems to be working wonders for our offense,” Brown said. “The team seems to be clicking together too. The last few games, they’ve been more team-oriented together.

“If we continue to hit with the pitching depth that we have, we could be in good shape.”

• • •

Disappointing as Wednesday’s 7-5 loss to Monmouth Academy might have been, Hall-Dale coach Bob Sinclair saw a positive sign that his young team has a dose of veteran poise to them.

The Bulldogs jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the game, scoring all of the runs with two outs. Akira Warren doubled with two outs and scored on Cole Lockhart’s single in the first inning, and Austin Stebbins and Jacob Brown picked up RBI singles during a three-run rally in the second.

“That’s typical of our team,” Sinclair said. “Once one player gets going and leads off with a hit, it’s a little bit contagious. We’ve done that in many games. … It doesn’t matter how many outs there are. Once we get hitting the ball, once we start rallying, it’s pretty typical of this team to put several hits together.”

It’s a surprising trait considering Hall-Dale’s youth. The Bulldogs have no seniors on the roster.

“That says a lot for this young team,” Sinclair said. “There’s a lot of promise here. It’s exciting to be a coach with so many young players. The future’s very bright.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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