The story of this year’s Winthrop High School baseball team actually begins last year, when the Ramblers, a playoff regular, were on the outside of the postseason looking in with a 6-10 record.

Coach Marc Fortin figured Winthrop would be back, what with an entire starting lineup coming back. But even he was surprised by what unfolded this season.

The Ramblers flipped their record and rose to the upper tier of the Class C South standings, grabbing the region’s No. 2 seed and reaching the South semifinals. For his role in guiding Winthrop back into the playoffs, Fortin is the Kennebec Journal Baseball Coach of the Year. Hall-Dale’s Bob Sinclair, Erskine’s Lars Jonassen and Richmond’s Ryan Gardner were also considered.

“Last year, I thought we lost a lot of close games, and this year we seemed to be on the other side of a lot of those close games,” Fortin said. “If you were to ask us before the season started if we thought we would have the kind of success we had this year, I don’t think we would have said we’d end up as the No. 2 seed.”

The Ramblers’ experience was a given, but the pieces on the roster began to click better than they had last season. Jackson Ladd and Bennett Brooks became sparkplugs at the top of a lineup that didn’t have a lot of pop but had plenty of good contact hitters, including Jacob Hickey (.420 average during the regular season), Matt Ingram (.404) and Cameron Gaghan, who batted .320 out of the No. 9 hole.

The team also had a pitching staff that blossomed throughout the season, led by Hickey, Antonio Meucci and Greg Fay, with Ingram and Ladd also picking up innings and games.

“I think our pitching was a strong point,” Fortin said. “We didn’t walk many batters this year. That was key.”

They were all guided by Fortin, who used a mantra that became a refrain from the first game of the season until the last.

“We have to make the plays we’re supposed to make,” he said. “And if we can throw in a couple of exceptional plays within that, we’re going to be right where we need to be.”

The message is simple enough, but Fortin learned long ago that players don’t need their coaches to grind demands into them over the course of the season.

“We’re not high-pressure coaches. We’re ‘You’re going to get them next time.’ Those types of coaches,” he said. “We’re really trying to keep the kids as relaxed as possible. They’re playing one of the most difficult sports known to humans, and the last thing you want to do is create more pressure for them.”

The approach worked as Winthrop showed its ability in one tight game after another, taking Lisbon to 14 innings in a 3-2 loss and sweeping Monmouth during the regular season. That set the stage for the playoffs, where Winthrop edged old Mountain Valley Conference rival St. Dominic, 2-1, to reach the semifinals, where the run ended with an 8-4 loss to Monmouth.

“I thought we had a pretty nice club. … It came together,” Fortin said. “The next thing you know you’re thinking state championship game. It’s a nice feeling. It’s nice to be thinking you have the possibility of being in the state championship game.”

And quite the turnaround after missing the chance to play for one entirely.

“I’ve got kids that enjoy playing baseball, and love to work on their craft and on their skills,” he said. “It’s a pretty easy gig, to tell you the truth.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM