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Waiting game: Class A South baseball, softball teams try to stay sharp before playoffs

May 31—With the regular season over and the playoffs on tap, SMAA baseball and softball teams are playing the waiting game.

The 12 playoff-bound softball teams in Class A South wrapped up the regular season on May 24. In A South baseball, 10 of the 12 playoff teams finished that same day or the following one. The postseason begins with preliminary-round games Tuesday, but some teams have a bye until the quarterfinals on Thursday, which means they'll go nearly two weeks without an official game.

The layover can be a challenge for teams that have spent months honing their timing and rhythm.

"It's a longer layoff than we're used to," Falmouth baseball coach Mike D'Andrea said. "Here in Maine, our season's really condensed into a few weeks. ... It always feels like the season's really stuffed into three weeks. But we're all in the same boat, luckily, and we all deal with it."

The top four A South baseball teams — Scarborough, Falmouth, Thornton Academy and Marshwood — will compete in the conference championships on Saturday, giving them some live action. Other baseball teams, as well as the softball teams (which don't play for an SMAA title), face a much drier spell.

"I think the most important thing is trying to get as many live reps as you can, whether that's internal within our own team and doing some internal scrimmaging, or if it's us reaching out to scrimmage some other teams," said Gorham softball coach Jason Dubail, whose team will have gone nearly two weeks without an official game before its first playoff game Thursday. "We're trying to keep that edge, and trying to stay as sharp as we can as we get ready for the playoffs."

Coaches and players also said the layover has its benefits. For example, players with nagging injuries can use the rest, while others have a chance to mentally reset.

"A hundred percent. Maybe a kid was in a slump, but now he can rejuvenate himself, hit some BP (batting practice), get back in the motions," South Portland junior shortstop Easton Healy said. "We always treat playoffs like our second season, and this layoff like our second preseason. ... We definitely use this time to make sure we have all the housekeeping items, all the little stuff all perfect."

Healy's coach, Mike Owens, gave his team three days off last weekend.

"I haven't been able to do (that) in a long time," he said. "These kids have probably never had (that) in their high school career, three days off. It's kind of a nice thing at the end of the year, too, to rest up, spend some time with your family and get away from baseball a little bit."

When they're on the field, the focus is on keeping the team sharp. Scrimmages become a useful resource for many coaches.

"I think everybody's going to try to continue some live at-bats," said D'Andrea, whose team booked scrimmages with Yarmouth and Greely around the SMAA championship. "I think that's necessary going into playoffs. You're facing some really strong pitching. You've got to stay sharp, and just see ball out of hand and not get stagnant."

Dubail's Gorham softball team scrimmaged Oxford Hills on Thursday and will play Skowhegan on Monday. Cheverus played North Yarmouth Academy in a softball tuneup Wednesday.

"We put each other through some scenarios, some things that we both felt like we needed to work on," Cheverus Coach John Eisenhart said. "We don't really look at wins and losses in those things. ... When you can collaborate with another coach like that and have a controlled scrimmage, you can get so much for out of it."

Maintaining that game feel, though, isn't limited to scrimmages. Eisenhart said his practices will feature batting practice against live pitching, mini games, bunt defenses, baserunning races — anything to maintain game speed and competitive intensity.

"At the end of the day, it's about prepping the kids as best you can as a coach for game-like situations, so they know exactly what to do in that situation," he said, "while keeping it fresh and energetic and fun."

Kennebunk baseball coach Andrew Coulombe said his team had a scrimmage date fall through, but he's focusing his team's practices around staying ready for when next week's games come around.

"We spent a lot of time doing situational hitting, where we put actual runners on base and gave them a certain amount of outs and try to get them to think 'What am I trying to accomplish in this situation?'" he said. "Also, with our defense, 'What's the scenario? Where do I go with the ball if it's hit to me?'

"There are a lot of different things you can do. For us ... we know based on our regular season what scenarios and situations offensively we feel we can improve on and need to focus on."

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