WATERVILLE — With the game over and his team packing up after a 3-0 win over Temple Academy at Colby College, Rangeley baseball coach Jeff LaRochelle pondered his team’s depth. Already thin, the Lakers suffered a big blow when catcher and leadoff hitter Zac Trafton suffered a nasty ankle injury when he stepped awkwardly on first base running out a ground ball in the top of the fifth inning.

“I’ve never had a team where I’ve had a lot of seniors,” LaRochelle, now in his fourth season as Rangeley’s baseball coach, said.

Across the field in the third base dugout, Temple Academy coach Craig Riportella could make the same claim. Like Rangeley, Temple is working to build a baseball program at a time when the sport is seeing less participation in high schools across the state.

“We have a lot of inexperienced players on the team. Probably half our team has never played organized baseball. That’s the biggest challenge, getting them to understand some of the basics and fundamentals of baseball,” Riportella said.

Waterville’s Temple Academy is playing its fourth season of varsity baseball since the school returned to Maine Principals’ Association competition. For Rangeley, 2018 is the fourth season since the school reinstated baseball. Not even a state title in 2008 and two regional championships were enough to keep interest in baseball elevated at Rangeley. The school did not field a team in 2013 and 2014. The current group of seniors were freshmen in 2015, when the team made a comeback. The Lakers won just three games that season, but it was enough to make the Class D South playoffs. Rangeley won nine games in each of the last two seasons.

“Now what I notice is, we’re seeing the number one (pitcher). Before, people were like, ‘Oh, it’s Rangeley. How good are they? They haven’t had a team in a while.’ Now guys know we’re able to play,” LaRochelle said.

Temple baseball has made steady improvement. In the first season of varsity play, in 2015, the Bereans went 2-7. They followed that with a 2-12 season. Last year, Riportella’s first as coach, Temple improved to 6-7, just missing the Class D South tournament. As of right now, both Rangeley (5-2) and Temple (2-5) would qualify for the Class D South playoffs.

On Thursday, Rangeley’s starting lineup included two freshmen and two sophomores. Those four players accounted for nine of the Lakers’ 14 strikeouts. Temple started two freshmen, a sophomore, and a junior newcomer to baseball. That inexperience showed, as Sawyer Deroche, Temple’s senior starting pitcher, had all three of the Bereans’ base hits off Rangeley pitcher Bo Beaulieu, including a two-out triple in the bottom of the third inning. Next season, Temple will need to replace five seniors, Riportella said.

“Four of them are experienced players. It’s going to be constantly rebuilding,” Riportella said.

One of those seniors is Deroche, who was often dominant in taking a tough loss Thursday. Along with his 14 strikeouts, Deroche allowed just four hits. Rangeley’s first run came when Kyle LaRochelle walked, stole second, went to third base on a groudout, and scored on a wild pitch. In the third inning, the Lakers added a run when Trafton scored on Leo Perez’ bloop single to right field. Rangeley added an unearned run in the sixth inning when Beaulieu reached on an error and scored on a Cal Crosby single.

“We have a great group of young men. We’re seeing improvements every game. This game we didn’t hit the ball as well as we could have, that’s what cost us this game, but other than that the boys played hard. It was a well-played game on both sides, I think,” Riportella said.

What made Deroche tough to hit was a strong breaking pitch that often found the inside of the plate against right handed hitters.

“My guys get dazed by it. You could see where it froze them. We’ll keep working on it,” coach LaRochelle said.

The problem, LaRochelle said, was in Class D, his players simply don’t see a lot of pitchers with a breaking ball as good as the one Deroche threw Thursday. That, in a baseball season that is a sprint through a short spring in the western Maine mountains, can lead to days like Thursday, when the hits aren’t there. Add in players missing practices for various reasons, and a short season gets shorter.

“This is a wicked timing sport. It’s repetition, repetition, repitiion,” LaRochelle said. “Winter comes in early and leaves late. You’re in the gym. You just get fired. Fly balls in the parking lot. Forest Hills is in the same boat. Valley’s in the same boat. Greenville’s in the same boat.”

Thursday’s close game was an example of two teams that, despite fighting inexperience and low enrollment, are making baseball work, for now.

“Growing the program is getting more kids to play. Baseball is suffering that in general. I don’t know why. It’s a great sport,” LaRochelle said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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