READFIELD — Eric Brown is happy to talk about his team’s strong start. Start to imply that it’s anything more than that, however, and the Maranacook baseball coach taps the brakes.

“I really don’t want to say on that one,” Brown said, laughing. “I don’t want to get the baseball gods (against) us on that one.”

Fair enough. But it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore. With each win the Black Bears add to their record, their story becomes less that of a hot couple of weeks and more one of a team in the middle of a complete rejuvenation.

Maranacook is 9-1, in the middle of a nine-game winning streak and sitting in second in Class C’s South region. The Black Bears, 6-10 last season, were one of 11 teams in the entire state entering Thursday to have already passed their win total from last year, and the winningest team in that bunch. They’ve hit, to an average of 7.3 runs per game. They’ve pitched, allowing only 2.2 runs per contest. They’ve been smooth in the field, rarely committing more than one or two errors each game.

Like their coach, the players aren’t ready to predict just how far this ride will take them. But they’re enjoying it for as long as it goes.

“We like each other, we enjoy playing together, and we’re just having a good time,” junior second baseman and leadoff hitter Aric Belanger said. “We know when to bring the business and get things done, so in all, we’re just having a fun season. It’s working.”

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Maranacook’s turnaround is that there’s no real, tangible catalyst. There’s no freshman batting .500, or transfer mashing in the cleanup spot, or ace back from a missed season who’s mowing everyone down. The Black Bears that are winning now are, minus a few graduated players, the Black Bears that were losing then.

The change is internal. The roster may not be all that different, but the players say the attitude is.

“It’s just a great vibe. In the dugout, during prctice, we’re always doing things as a team, going out to dinner, stuff like that,” Belanger said. “On and off the field, we’re together. It’s definitely a bond that we’ve created.”

“I’m not surprised now with the way they’re coming together,” Brown said. “I think this group, team chemistry-wise, is outstanding.”

There’s more to it than camaraderie. The Black Bears say they’re more focused this year, and that the record reflects a more committed work ethic.

“Everybody’s more in it this year, and the attitudes are a lot better,” said senior Dan Garand, the team’s top pitcher. “We’re taking it a lot more seriously this year, we’re a lot more ready to play every day.”

Brown has seen it too.

“They’ve got a ton of potential, and I think the sky’s the limit for them,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how badly do they want it, and right now they’re wanting it pretty badly.”

In some areas, it was easy to see Maranacook’s success coming. The Black Bears had a bona fide ace in Garand, and Brown liked what he had with Jay Lauter, Avery Beckwith and Hunter Glowa making up the rest of the staff. The pitching has been as strong as expected, with Garand (3-1) leading the way and Lauter (2-0), Beckwith (3-0) and Glowa (1-0) making the Black Bears a tough matchup in each game, and the fielders behind them have been steady.

“We’ve been real solid defensively,” Brown said. “Pitchers have been getting strikeouts too, though. We had 16 of the 21 on Monday (against MCI) by strikeouts, so guys are pitching well, they’re setting up hitters and doing a great job with that.”

But the Black Bears are winning after also conquering what was perhaps their greatest flaw last season. The lineup struggled to hit consistently and in key spots, and Maranacook often found itself on the short end of games its staff pitched well enough to win.

From the first day of preseason, the Black Bears were eager for this season to be a different story. Coach Ed Bowie helped the players with their swings, and they thrived under the instruction.

“We knew we’d be pretty good. It was just a matter of if we put the ball on the bat,” senior outfielder Silas Mohlar said. “This preseason, we got to work, right off the bat.”

The result has been a deep lineup that, while lacking an all-conference slugger in its heart, can begin and finish rallies at each spot.

“Last year, we didn’t score as many runs as we thought we could and we blew a lot of games, to be honest,” junior outfielder Duncan Rogers said. “This year, right from the get-go, our goal was to get runs and not blow games, and so far this year we’ve been doing that.”

And when one did get away from them, the Black Bears didn’t flinch. Maranacook dropped its opening game, blowing a 7-1 lead in an 8-7 loss to Oceanside. Even in the moments after the loss, the Black Bears weren’t fazed.

“Coach just said ‘Keep your head up,’ ” Mohlar said. “We were all upbeat about still having 15 games left. That was just one of 16, it was no big deal. We were ready to play.”

They haven’t dropped any since, no matter what kind of game they’ve had to play. They’ve won on the mound, prevailing 3-2 over Leavitt and 3-0 over St. Dominic. They’ve broken out the bats, beating Old Orchard Beach 12-3 and Erskine 6-0. They’ve won the easy ones, like a 14-2 decision over Lawrence. And when Old Orchard Beach threatened to end the run in a rematch, taking a 2-0 lead into the sixth inning Thursday, they scored five straight runs to win that one, too.

The expectations were high at the start of the year. So far, the Black Bears have been playing up to them.

“Right from the start, our goal was championship,” Rogers said. “We really wanted to come out this year and show that, so right from the start, Class C champs was our goal. It still is.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.