South Portland seniors Noah Lewis (left), Anthony Poole (middle)and Hunter Owen (right) prepare to sign letters of intent to play baseball in college. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

SOUTH PORTLAND — Spring seemed like a cold lifetime away on Wednesday. But you couldn’t blame South Portland High baseball coach Mike Owens for thinking ahead as he watched three of his players sign national letters of intent to continue their careers in college.

Pitchers Hunter Owen and Noah Lewis and infielder/outfielder Anthony Poole signed their NLIs at Beal Gymnasium. The three took turns going to the podium to thank their families, friends and coaches and then don their future hats: first Lewis and the University of Maine (the home-state school), then Poole and Southern New Hampshire University (an NCAA Division II power) and finally Owen and Vanderbilt (one of the best Division I programs in the nation).

“Every spring they make it exciting,” said Owens, whose team lost in the Class A South finals last year. “I know we’ll have a target on our back, we had a target on our back last year too. We’re hoping since this is our last chance with these guys we can finish the job.”

The three were thrilled to share this moment.

“It’s an honor,” said Poole. “We’ve been playing together for so long, I can’t explain how happy I am for them too. It’s really special to share this with them.”

Wednesday was the first day for high school seniors to sign a national letter of intent in all sports but football. The NLI is a one-year binding agreement used by NCAA Division I and II programs to confirm that a student will attend the institution in exchange for an athletic scholarship.

Owen said the trio’s success is not by accident.

“They worked hard,” he said. “And all three guys are better people than they are players. And they are excellent players. So it’s exciting for me to see this.”

Owen, whose family moved to Maine from Kentucky when he was 6, said he was blessed to land in South Portland. Vanderbilt was the final school he, his mother, Julie, and father, Tim, visited. And as they left, they all knew it was the right place.

“We all looked at each other and said, ‘This is it,’ ” said Julie Owen. “We just knew. That’s how Hunter approached this whole thing. It was just a feeling. He knew and I knew I could leave my child there and not worry.”

Owen, a 6-foot-5 lefty with a fastball in the high 80s and a snapping curve, said he liked the way the baseball team operated. “It was the attention to detail, the standard that they hold their players to,” he said. “I just felt it was right.”

Lewis said he was looking forward to playing for his home state school.

“They took a chance on me when I didn’t see it in myself,” he said. “I want to pay it back to them, put Maine back in the win column.”

He’ll be joined in Orono by two Marshwood players: catcher Connor Caverly and shortstop Quinn McDaniel also signed NLIs to play for the Black Bears.

“I’m really close with Quinn,” said Lewis. “We work out together. It’s going to be fun having them there too.”

There were other signings across southern Maine, including:

• Deering: Ben Brown (Franklin Pierce lacrosse) and Owen McLaughlin (Pittsburgh swimming)

• Fryeburg Academy: Abigail Hewes (Bentley field hockey)

• Gorham: Kate Tugman (Florida State cross country and track)

• Greely: Katherine Clancy (Assumption soccer), Aiden Melville (Providence soccer), Brooke Obar (Bentley basketball), Marin Provencher (St. Anselm cross country)

• Kennebunk: Kelly Small (Stetson women’s rowing), Grace Campanella (Rhode Island tennis, signing on Friday) and Max Murray (Vermont lacrosse, signing on Monday)

• Marshwood: in addition to Caverly and McDaniel, Nichole Roberts (SNHU field hockey)

• Mt. Ararat: Caleb Manuel (Connecticut golf, signing on Thursday) and distance runner Lisandro Berry-Gaviria, who will announce his choice on Thursday

• Sanford: Paige Cote (New Hampshire basketball, signing on Friday)

• Thornton Academy: Cameron Cote (SNHU lacrosse) and Mia Taranko (New Hampshire track and filed)

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