When high school pitchers began the spring season, they found a new set of pitch count rules waiting for them. And though they’ve traded in their school uniforms for their American Legion jerseys, they’ve found those regulations following them into the summer season as well.

American Legion took a page out of the Maine Principals’ Association’s book for this season, adapting a set of pitch count rules that will guide both the amount of pitches a player can throw and the amount of rest required upon reaching a set amount of pitches in a game. And as was the case during the high school season, coaches know that planning pitching matchups will now become more of an adventure for teams in the area.

“In a packed, shortened summer schedule, it’s enough to (affect) what kind of rotation they want to go with,” Post 51 coach Ray Bernier said. “There are some tougher in-game decisions.”

The principles are the same, though the details are different. The maximum amount of pitches in a game is now 120, compared to 110 for high school. Legion pitchers need a day of rest after 30 pitches, versus 20 in high school, and they’ll need two days off after 45 (39 in high school), three days off after 60 (65 in high school) and four days off after 75 (95 in high school).

“With some of these kids playing on teams that went deep into the playoffs, and the arms come in a bit tired, I did see that last year a little bit,” Augusta Elks coach Tim Rodrigue said. “If it’s the right thing to do for the young arms, then that’s what we should be doing.”

High school and Legion situations aren’t the same, however. The MPA pitch count rules are enforced partly to keep kids who are still rusty from the winter from ramping up too quickly, and from pushing themselves too hard in cold, often damp weather. In Legion, the players have at least two-and-a-half months under their belts, and warmer weather to work with.

“I like it because it protects the kids, and I don’t like it because some kids can go more than what they do,” Franklin County Flyers coach Kyle Gunzinger said. “Some of the older kids are (capable of) way beyond 120 pitches.”

Rodrigue said that the adjustment for teams shouldn’t be too drastic, as the wider talent pool in Legion gives teams more proven arms to deal with.

“I wouldn’t string my pitcher out there over a crazy amount of pitches anyway,” he said. “I’ve got too many pitchers to do that.”

Indeed, it’s a staff that Rodrigue is confident can carry Augusta to the top of a competitive Zone 2. The Elks have experience throughout the field and lineup with 10 post-graduate players, but it’s the pitching staff that should shine brightest, with former Cony and Hall-Dale standouts Justin Rodrigue and Ryan Sinclair, respectively, joining recent Cony graduate Kolbe Merfeld at the top of a rotation also consisting of current Maine-Farmington player Jason Brooks, Cony grad Taylor Heath and Maranacook graduate Chris Florek.

It’s a deep group, and it could be enough to have Augusta competing for one of the zone’s top spots with Rogers, Mills, Franklin, Gardiner, Pastime and Bessey.

“This is as solid a team as I’ve ever had,” Coach Rodrigue said. “We can compete with all of them, we can beat all of them.”

Franklin, a young team last year that finished with a 5-11 record, aims to be more competitive with a year of experience under its belt. The Flyers are also led by their pitching with UMF’s Ryan Pratt leading a rotation also consisting of Mt. Blue’s Miles Pelletier and Spruce Mountain’s Austin Gilboe and Nate Goodine.

“We have a bunch of kids that are really solid. I wouldn’t say superstars, but they’re very solid kids,” Gunzinger said. “We should be somewhere in the middle, I think. … These teams get so close, it’s a matter of who gets a hit in a key moment.”

In Zone 1, Messalonskee- and Lawrence-heavy Post 51 and Skowhegan Post 16 were two of the top teams a season ago, with Post 51 going 17-3 in the regular season but running into trouble in the zone tournament — partly at the hands of Post 16, which ended up making a run to the state tournament and finishing fourth.

Back at it again, Bernier said his team is motivated to make up for what it felt was a disappointing postseason.

“That definitely left a sour taste in our staff’s and our players’ mouths,” he said. “They’re going to redeem themselves this year, I think.”

Post 51 lost some pitching, but will look to stay atop the standings with its bats. The team returns Derek Bowen, who led UMF with a .374 average as a freshman, and also has second-team all-KVAC picks from Lawrence in Devon Webb and Jared Dodge and another in Messalonskee’s Tyler Lewis.

The pitching staff did get a boost, however, in Messalonskee’s Josh Joy, a Franklin Pierce commit who was first-team all-KVAC.

“I think if we can pitch the way I expect our staff to pitch,” Bernier said, “we can beat anybody in our zone and find ourselves near the top of those standings, in the 1, 2 or 3 spot.”

They’ll still have competition from Post 16, which lost University of Maine pitcher Cody Laweryson to a Massachusetts league but returned the other 14 players eligible to play again, and has pitchers taking up 16 of 18 roster spots.

“That’s going to be a major strength, hopefully, in the playoff hunt,” coach Roger Stinson said. “Knowing the pitch count, that makes a big difference.”

That staff will be led by Bridgeway’s Dustin Crawford, who Stinson said is one of the three best pitchers in the zone, and UMF’s Chase Malloy, while the lineup will also feature Bridgeway’s Ryan Emery and Evan Bess and Skowhegan’s Brendan Curran and William Stinson.

It adds up to a mix that the coach believes can challenge the zone’s best once again, a group that should include Hampden, Brewer, Bangor and Post 51.

“I believe we’re as solid as we were last year,” Roger Stinson said. “I’ve got kids who are saying, point blank, ‘We want to win states.’ I know they got a good taste of it last year in the state tournament, and that is our ultimate goal.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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