From seacoast online.com and Ryan O'Leary
Posted Jul. 16, 2016 at 2:00 AM
PORTSMOUTH — Jake Lebel entered the All-Star break leading the Futures Collegiate Baseball League in home runs with 10. He was second in RBIs with 31.
But he wasn’t invited to the Home Run Derby. At first, he wasn’t even selected to play in Wednesday’s All-Star Game on the campus of Holy Cross.
“I didn’t make the original pick, so I was in the fan vote,” said Lebel, the South Berwick, Maine, native and former Marshwood High School standout. “And I didn’t even make that. I was a commissioner's pick. So the commissioner picked me and I went in and I DH’ed for the second half of the game.”
Lebel wound up seeing some familiar faces out in Worcester, Mass. — the East team included eight Seacoast Mavericks, including coach Ben Bizier — and walked away with the last laugh. He hit the game-tying home run in the East’s 4-3 win over the West and was later named the game’s MVP.
How’s that for karmic justice?
These days, things are just swinging right for the Mavs.
Friday night’s 8-3 win over the Brockton Rox at Leary Field pushed Seacoast’s record to 24-11. The Mavs maintained a 2-game lead over second-place Nashua in the East Division standings.
“The first half of the year was a blast,” Lebel said. “We’re just having a really good time. We all enjoy being around each other and we all love the game of baseball. We all want to get better, but at the same time we’re relaxed and we’re just going out there doing what we do. We’re just winning, so it’s fun.”
Lebel, one of three hometown boys who grew up playing for the USA Mavericks club program and are on the roster this summer along with pitchers Casey Aubin (Madbury) and Luke Fernandes (Eliot, Maine), has been right in the thick of it.
He’s batting .301 — a major hike from his .144 average as a freshman with Division I New York Institute of Technology last spring. He played in 36 games for NYIT and finished with three home runs and 12 RBIs.
He felt most comfortable in the batter’s box toward the end of the college season. Summer ball wound up being the perfect extension.
“It was adjusting to the pitching,” Lebel said. “Like going down to the Division I level in New York and being able to see kids, like their fourth starter of the weekend be able to snap off a real tight slider — like the best sliders I’ve seen in my life. It’s definitely something you need to adjust to. Going down there and seeing that has definitely helped me this summer.”
The Mavs beat Brockton for the second straight night Friday. They got five one-hit innings from starter Clayton Chatham, and a pair of RBIs each from Barry Buchowski and Alvin Swoope.
Lebel got one at-bat as a pinch hitter. He started in Thursday night’s 7-4 win over Brockton and finished 3 for 2 with two walks and two RBIs.
“I’m not surprised at how well he’s doing,” said Aubin, who has played with Lebel in the USA Mavericks program since they were 12 years old. “Everyone here knows he can swing the stick, and he plays some of the best first base I’ve ever seen.
“The All-Star Game, it’s all politics,” he added of Worcester, “but he deserved just as much, if not more, than anyone else to be there. He proved it when he was there.”
The Mavericks head on the road this weekend for games against North Shore and Pittsfield. They could come back 15 games above .500.
At this point, it’s not if the Seacoast Mavericks reach the FCBL playoffs for the first time in program history. It’s becoming more like — exactly when does the countdown begin?
“We’re definitely looking toward the playoffs,” Lebel said. “We have the pitching staff, we have the lineup to do so. We’re hoping to do some damage this second half and into the playoffs.”