Monmouth baseball players Isaac Oliveria, Cam Armstrong, Manny Calder and Kyle Palleschi have helped the Mustangs advance to face Lisbon in the Class C South final on Tuesday. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

In its only regular season matchup with Lisbon this spring, Monmouth Academy used two freshman pitchers.

That might sound crazy, but it’s become fairly ordinary for the Mustangs, who Mustangs have been relying on youth throughout the baseball season. Their roster includes only one senior and four juniors, two who are starter, the rest are underclassmen, including five sophomores who are regular starters.

While facing a high-caliber team like Lisbon as a freshman can be overwhelming, Kyle Palleschi, who started against the Greyhounds on May 10, said he was ready to go when he stepped onto the mound.

“It was my first varsity starting performance, so I was a little nervous, but (senior) Cam (Armstrong) came over and talked to me for a bit before the game and that calmed me down a little bit, and I did what I did,” Palleschi said. “I had a week of quarantine off, then I came back. After the first inning they had an infield hit and I think I walked the second guy, but I settled down and struck a couple of them out, and that’s when I thought, ‘Hey, just another day on the mound.’”

Palleschi pitched five innings and allowed only one run in five innings before being taken out. Monmouth support freshman relief pitcher Sam Calder with three runs in the sixth inning, which was enough to hang on for a 3-2 win over the Greyhounds.

Palleschi felt like he belonged on the mound, just like the Mustangs feel like they belong in every game. 

Their next game is against Lisbon, again, this time for the Class C South championship. The second-seeded Mustangs (15-3) and fourth-seeded Greyhounds (16-2), the defending champions from 2019, meet Tuesday at 3 p.m. at St. Joseph’s College in Standish.

“I don’t think confidence, at this point, is much of a problem for us,” Monmouth sophomore Manny Calder said. “We came this far and we know we have the talent and so we just have to go out there and believe and execute.”

Head coach Eric Palleschi said that assistant coach Steve Palleschi has been adamant about the team focusing on the mental side of baseball. 

“We work on that just as much as we work on the skills, and we’ve done an awesome job with that and they seem to respond really well to it,” Eric Palleschi said.

Monmouth has taken out Traip Academy, Maranacook and, most recently, Mt. Abram in its playoff run. Armstrong, the lone senior on the team, said the nerves have been non-existent in the postseason. Armstrong added that while he is the only senior, he isn’t the only leader. 

“Every game feels winnable for us,” Armstrong said. “We have the talent and our team chemistry is the best I’ve ever seen. It’s not like, I’m the only senior so I’m the only leader — every single one of us has a part leading this team.”

This season hasn’t been smooth from the start for Monmouth. It’s been a process.

The Mustangs, like every team in Maine, missed out on the 2020 baseball season, so rekindling chemistry on a team with so few upperclassmen and so many new players was difficult, at first. 

“At the beginning of the season, and the scrimmages, it was a little bumpy. But we started playing better baseball, and then I guess we didn’t realize how good we could be, so then we just clicked and we were playing good baseball,” Armstrong said.

Monmouth baseball players Isaac Oliveria, Cam Armstrong, Manny Calder and Kyle Palleschi are key players for the Mustangs, who will face Lisbon in the C South final on Tuesday. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

A big click came after Monmouth faced off and lost a close game with Wells, 2-1, on May 26. The team gathered together afterwards and Eric Palleschi talked to the players about how important the game was. They had almost beaten a Class B school, the playoffs were around the corner and it was only the Mustangs’ third loss of the season. 

“We lost by one to Wells and we had a big talk with everybody, and, I mean, we finally figured out how good we are because we almost beat a Class B team,” Armstrong said. “We just started playing good baseball ever since then. We had the whole season, but especially after that talk.”

Eric Palleschi said that during the talk he pointed out to the players that, by that point in the season, they were no longer short on experience.

“It was, more or less, we have a lot of sophomores, we start a couple freshmen, a couple juniors and a senior, it was more along the lines of, ‘OK, you sophomores and freshmen, you’ve now graduated and are now juniors and sophomores,’” Eric Palleschi said. “It was a lot about realizing that we’ve played a lot of baseball, and, yes, we missed a year, but I think it took that game for our upperclassmen to realize, ‘Holy cow, these guys can play,’ and our underclassman to realize, ‘Yeah, we do belong here.’”

Monmouth has won five games in a row since the Wells talk, including three playoff games — most recently a 3-2 victory over Mt. Abram in the Class C South semifinals on Saturday. 

“They beat us earlier in the season, so we went into it with a chip on our shoulder,” Manny Calder said. “We knew we could beat them.”

Armstrong struck out 14 batters in the win over the Roadrunners. He has been pitching a lot more this year after only a couple of varsity innings on the mound his freshman and sophomore seasons. 

“I just came out and do what I can do. I felt it before the game started,” Armstrong said. “I was throwing in the bullpen, and I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’m ready.’ I threw maybe 10 pitches and I was ready.”

Sophomore Isaac Oliveria, a third baseman, said team’s chemistry was a huge reason why it vaulted past the Roadrunners and into the C South final. 

“I think it’s just that we played all seven innings and we never gave up,” Oliveria said. “We had a lot of teamwork in that game.”

Now, with a spot in the Class C state title game on the line, the Mustangs expect the second go-around with Lisbon will be different from May 10. 

“We were missing four guys, they were missing two,” Eric Pallesci said. “… One game at a time and put together a five-game winning streak, and it’s a good feeling at the end. Their lineup is going to be a lot different. They were missing a couple key bats. There’s no surprise. I think we caught them off guard, and (Lisbon’s) Randy (Ridley) is an excellent coach. He’s game-planning and knows what we’ve got. Randy and I are also good friends outside of here, so there are no surprises.

“I think they hit the ball really well and we pitch the ball very well. I think it’s going to be a fun game, and I just hope we come out playing our game, have fun, be confident and get a win.”

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