Maranacook’s Brandon Drapeau is congratulated at home after belting a home run during a 2002 game against Winslow in Readfield. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file photo

 

Editor’s note: This is the 28th installment of our new series, “Remember When,” in which we revisit some of the memorable games, events, streaks and runs in high school spring sports we’ve covered over the last few decades.

 

READFIELD — In September 2001, Don Plourde was working as an assistant on the Maranacook boys soccer team when he noticed something unusual about his players’ conversations with each other.

They weren’t about the fall season taking place. They were about the spring. And baseball. And taking care of a bad taste in their mouths.

“That was all they talked about,” Plourde said. “Every time I saw them, even if it was a big soccer game, there was always a reference to baseball.”

And for good reason. Maranacook baseball then was on a run that most programs could only dream of, and in the spring 2002, the Black Bears stretched it for one final season, reaching their third straight Class B championship game and winning their second title in three years with a 10-0 victory over Foxcroft Academy.

“In 2000, we were kind of paving the way for the future, breaking school records every game we won,” senior center fielder and — for one game — catcher Jared Lemieux said. “In 2002 … we were strong, we had been there before, we were confident.”

“We built something over our whole lives that built to that moment,” senior pitcher Andy Kenny said. “… There was a lot of trust in each other. We’d played a lot of innings together over the prior 10 years, and we trusted everybody was going to do their job, no matter what that job was.”

The Black Bears were talented, and they were driven. After surprising the state with their championship run in 2000, Maranacook was poised for a repeat in 2001 but lost in the Class B final to John Bapst.

For a team that didn’t lose much, the defeat came as a shock. And the Black Bears were determined not to let it happen again.

Maranacook catcher Mike Buckley tries to apply a tag on a Winslow runner during a 2002 game in Readfield. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file photo

“We were a group of guys that played hard,” Lemieux said, “and did not like to lose.”

“2002 was the last year that we really had our (core) guys,” junior catcher Mike Buckley said. “We knew in 2002, we had to capitalize.”

When 2002 came around, however, there was adversity to deal with. Winkin Award winner Greg Creek had graduated. Ace Ben Muniz had shoulder trouble and couldn’t pitch that season. And there was a new coach in the dugout, Plourde, to adjust to.

Plourde, however, had no plans to shake up what was already clearly working.

“You just really have to understand what you have for players,” the current Cony coach said. “I said ‘Hey, you’ve been there and done that. When the games come around, we’re going to let you do your thing.’ ”

It was just the approach the Black Bears were hoping for.

“We really wanted to win for him,” Buckley said. “We all knew we had it in us. But we wanted to prove it to Don.”

The team he took over had talent everywhere. The starting lineup of Lemieux, shortstop Seth Emery, first baseman Muniz, left fielder Don Lake, Buckley, third baseman Rob Cloutier, right fielder Brandon Drapeau and utility players Shane Mason and Brian Cook featured nine good hitters. And the pitching staff, anchored by Lemieux and Kenny, didn’t miss a beat without Muniz.

“We were both pretty crafty. … Nobody was lighting the radar gun up,” Kenny said. “We both really, really enjoyed getting hitters off balance.”

On defense, the Black Bears had no equal. They were strongest up the middle, with a rifle-armed catcher in Buckley, a sweet fielding shortstop in Emery and a reliable, wide-ranging center fielder in Lemieux.

“We had the strongest up-the-middle defense you could ever put together,” Kenny said. “Nothing was going up the middle. It was like artwork.”

Maranacook opened the Class B West playoffs with a close call win over Lincoln Academy, followed by another victory over Lisbon. Lemieux got the Black Bears through the West bracket from there, shutting out Gorham 2-0 and then Gray-New Gloucester 6-0.

“Jared was amazing,” Plourde said. “A lot of people didn’t look at him as a pitcher, but his stats were off the charts.”

The only team left in Maranacook’s way was Foxcroft, and Plourde had a pair of tricks up his sleeve. One was that he was starting Buckley and his hard fastball in the state game, after he had only pitched sparingly in relief during the season.

“I always kind of prodded Don. Every catcher thinks they’re a pitcher,” Buckley said. “(I said) ‘I think I can figure this out.’ ”

The second surprise was that Plourde was putting Lemieux, his left-handed outfielder, behind the plate for the first time.

“I tell you what, I was excited,” Lemieux said. “I was nervous, but at the same time, I always wanted to challenge myself and prove something. And that was an opportunity when I could do that.”

Both moves paid off in the final. The Ponies couldn’t muster runs off of Buckley, and when they had their best chance in the fifth with two on and none out down 2-0, Maranacook’s collective baseball acumen showed up. Umpires had warned Foxcroft leadoff hitter Danny White about stepping out of the box, a new rule that season, and when he did it again with two strikes, Lemieux reminded home plate umpire Kevin Joyce of the warning, and White was called out.

“Jared’s a lawyer,” Plourde said. “He sold that.”

Buckley walked the next batter to load the bases, but he and Lemieux noticed the third-base runner straying too far off the base during pitches. Buckley followed with a fastball high and away to Foxcroft’s next hitter, a lefty, and Lemieux zipped a throw down to third, where Cloutier made the catch and a diving tag to pick the runner off for the second out.

Maranacook’s Ben Muniz throws during a 2002 practice in Readfield. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file photo

“Jared and I both saw it. I was a catcher, so I actually signaled to Jared,” Buckley said. “Jared and I communicated that play, and knew that was going to happen.”

The next batter flew out to end the threat.

“The No. 3 hitter hits a fly ball to center field, inning over, and they’re done,” Plourde said. “Lights out. They were done.”

In the seventh, Maranacook got two-run singles from Muniz and Mason to break the game open with a seven-run inning. All that was left were three more outs, and a celebration the Black Bears had been determined to enjoy once again.

“We knew it was going to be the last time most of us ever played together. That was kind of tough,” Kenny said. “But it just felt like ‘Mission complete.’ We felt very fulfilled that we did it. We were so proud. I just loved every minute of that ride.”

For the players, it was the only right way to wrap up a run to remember.

“In that moment, we were totally ecstatic to be able to prove to ourselves that this group of guys didn’t just catch lightning in a bottle the first year,” Buckley said. “We really were the real deal, and there’s a real legacy here of accomplishment.”

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