The Richmond and Searsport baseball teams are never on each other’s schedules.
And yet, the Bobcats and Vikings always begin the year with a hunch they’ll be seeing each other.
“We know we can’t win without going through Richmond first,” Searsport coach John Frye said. “We talk about it before the year starts, we talk about it during the middle of the year, and we always know at the end of the year it’s usually going to come down to us and Richmond for the South title.”
History certainly backs him up. Searsport and Richmond have been the best programs in Class D for half a decade, and as such, have been seemingly destined to meet with hardware on the line. The two have won the last four Class D crowns — Searsport won three straight from 2015-17, Richmond won it all last year — and have gone through each other for three of them. The exception was 2016, when Cody Laweryson and Valley beat Richmond in the D South semifinals to face Searsport instead.
So, unless a pitcher good enough to be drafted by a Major League team intervenes, the Bobcats and Vikings are playing each other. And both coaches know what they can expect from those contests.
“You know it’s big game time,” Richmond coach Ryan Gardner said. “I think that’s when the kids go ‘All right, this is going to be fun. We’ve got to come out ready to play, we can’t make mistakes,’ and there’s a little bit of an edge to a game like that that the kids kind of enjoy.”
Consistency and continued success is hard at the Class D level, where a strong graduating class can ravage a program and a star player — a Laweryson, for instance — can single-handedly tilt the competitive landscape. And yet, year after year, there’s Searsport and Richmond. As good players leave, more arrive.
“I think it’s the involvement,” Gardner said. “I had these kids in rec, and for me, I think it was just staying involved. If they see someone staying involved, the kids keep coming out.”
“It really starts at the lower levels, the youth levels, and getting them well-coached,” Frye said. “By the time they get to us, we do a little tweaking, and they’re ready. We have freshmen step in every year ready to play at the varsity level, and I know it’s the same thing for Richmond.”
And when they get to varsity ball, Bobcats players know to expect the Vikings. And Searsport players know they’ll be seeing Richmond.
“That’s what we hope for,” Richmond senior catcher Danny Stewart said. “We feel like they’re going to be in that big game, and we want to be in that big game.”
“That goes through our mind at the beginning of the year, every year,” junior shortstop Dakotah Gilpatric said. “We get better as a team and we know what they’re doing too. We know that they’re getting better as a team as well. … There’s always a push to beat this team.”
All involved know the games usually deliver.
“It’s basically like a marathon condensed into two hours,” Stewart said. “There’s so much adrenaline and emotion, just packed into that one game. It’s like our extra-inning game at the beginning of the season (against Buckfield). Every inning feels like that.”
At first, Searsport had the edge. The Vikings beat the Bobcats 13-3 in the 2015 South final, and then beat them 6-2 in 2017.
“I remember the heartbreak of seeing all the seniors being so devastated after that loss (in 2017),” junior third baseman Ben Gardner said. “The next year, it was like ‘We don’t want that feeling ever again.’ ”
They didn’t. Richmond jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning before cruising to a 14-6 win over the Vikings in last year’s regional final. Three days later, Richmond beat Fort Fairfield for the state crown.
“That was great. That game last year, where we beat them, that was a big breath of fresh air, a big weight off of our shoulders,” Stewart said. “We had been waiting for that game all year.”
That tends to be the way. At the start of every spring, it remains to be seen who each team will put on the field, and how each team will perform over the course of the season.
And yet, both teams have an idea that they’ll be playing at St. Joseph’s College in June — and which team will be on the field with them.
“It’s a rivalry just because we’re meeting in the championship games all the time, but there’s respect for each other,” coach Gardner said. “We always know, if you want to get it done, you’ve got to go through each other.”