It’s Bob Sinclair’s philosophy, and the Hall-Dale baseball coach has it up where he — and his players — can always see it.

“On the bulletin board at school, I have a quote. ‘Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence,’ ” he said. “And basically, that captured our 2018 season.”

Indeed, the Bulldogs weren’t quite perfect. But they were excellent. Hall-Dale went 19-1 and won its first Class C state championship since 2001 with a 2-1 victory over Houlton. For his work in leading the Bulldogs to the title, Sinclair is the Kennebec Journal Baseball Coach of the Year. Maranacook’s Eric Brown and Richmond’s Ryan Gardner were also considered.

For Sinclair, winning a state championship checked off a goal he had since taking over the program in 2013.

“I wanted to bring back the winning days of Hall-Dale baseball,” he said. “Since that time, it’s always been a goal of mine to come back and win a (Mountain Valley Conference) championship and a state championship. It’s taken five years to get here, but I’m very proud of the boys and their hard work to get to this point.”

He had the team to do it this year. Every starter was back, and with a lineup led by Akira Warren, Austin Stebbins, Alec Byron and Jacob Brown and a talented rotation led by Dean Jackman and Cole Lockhart, the Bulldogs began the season as a popular pick in Class C South.

Sinclair, however, knew talent on paper wouldn’t necessarily equal wins on the schedule.

“The fascinating part of sports is the team with the greatest amount of skill doesn’t always win,” he said. “So even though we had all our ballplayers coming back from a team that did fairly well the year before, we still had to come together as a team and find a way to be successful.”

True to the motto on the bulletin board, Sinclair made sure his team was playing up to its potential each time out. He has a rule for practices that all players must wear pants and team colors, with the goal of maintaining a game-day level of intensity.

“That just sets the tone for practices throughout the season,” he said. “When we take that baseball practice field, we’re looking to become better than the day before.”

And he made sure that in March, while his players were cooped up in the gym, they were laying the groundwork for success in April, May and even June.

“It’s those critical weeks that are early in the season where you’re developing your pitching and making the most of the gym time to prepare ballplayers or (work on) situations in which they find themselves,” he said, “so in mid-April you’re able to be as good as we possibly can be when we haven’t had a lot of practice time on the field.”

With Sinclair pushing, the Bulldogs were ready to go from opening day. They won their first 13 games, never appearing fazed by the pressure and expectations that come with being a heavy preseason favorite.

“There was some pressure, but we took that pressure and used it to make us better,” Sinclair said. “We weren’t overlooked by other teams, and many teams threw their top pitcher against us, which I think prepared us well for the postseason in June.”

The Bulldogs kept it up in the playoffs, rolling through the C South bracket with wins over Winthrop, Bridgeway (the one team to beat them all season) and then Maranacook to reach the state final. Houlton showed up for the title game ready to end the ride, taking a quick 1-0 lead, but the benefits of being tested during the regular season showed themselves as Hall-Dale rallied and finished off the Shiretowners to complete the championship pursuit.

“It was a feeling of elation, in that what we had set out to do in March all came to full fruition, that we had actually accomplished what we set out to (do),” Sinclair said. “Now we’re recognized with a winning tradition.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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