One year removed from a berth in the Eastern Class B playoffs, the Rockland District High School baseball team looks to take the next step as it jumps into the next decade.

This year the Tigers are led by first-year coach Joe Nelsen, who replaces Brian Plourde, who coached two seasons. Nelsen was an assistant coach with the Tigers last season, is a 1989 RDHS graduate and was a member of the school’s 1989 state Class B championship baseball team.

“Being an ’89 graduate of Rockland [District] High School and a member of 1989 state championship baseball team, it’s such a great honor and privledge to be at the helm this year and I’m looking forward to what the season will bring,” said Nelsen.

What this season could bring for Nelsen and the Tigers is success, as this year’s team has a strong mixture of veteran players and younger student-athletes looking to step in and make their mark at the varsity level.

The Tigers include seniors Gentry Burch (first base, pitcher, outfield), Derek Gustin (second base, pitcher), Dylan Meklin (pitcher, outfield), Henry Marsh (third base, outfield), Nick Beal (pitcher, outfield) and Brent Weldon (infield, outfield); juniors Luke Morrill (shortstop, pitcher), Steve Widdecombe (third base, pitcher), Jake Perry (outfield) and Joe Nelsen (catcher, pitcher); and sophomores Billy Joyce (outfield, pitcher) and Anthony Campagnoli (infield, outfield, pitcher).

Lost to graduation from last season were Anderson Murphy, Nick Little, David Searle, Dave McGuire and Pat Hanley.

Last season, the Tigers earned a regular-season record of 9-7 to secure the No. 10 seed in the Eastern Class B playoffs. Rockland pulled an upset of seventh-seeded John Bapst of Bangor 3-1 in the preliminary round of the playoffs before being upended by second-ranked Ellsworth 12-2 in five innings in the quarterfinals.

Nelsen said the outlook for this year’s team is positive, adding he has a small group of players who are good athletes and will be ready to play each game.

A few of those players are Morrill, who was the most outstanding player in the Midcoast last season, thriving both at shortstop as well as on the mound. Morrill, who is set to attend the University of Maine in Orono on a baseball scholarship in the coming years, led the team in hits (32), runs (26) and doubles (7) while batting .492 last season. He was also sensational on the mound, sporting a 2.65 earned run average and pitched 10 innings of a 13-inning victory against Mount View of Thorndike last season.

The Tigers also have Nelsen’s son doing the catching and he had one of the stronger, more accurate arms in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B division. He was also second on the team in hits with 24 and scored 14 runs.

While there is no doubt Rockland has players who can swing the bat, pitching may well be what the Tigers need to work on to thrive in the KVAC this year.

“Pitching is always a concern for high school baseball,” said Nelsen. “Weather can be a nightmare with makeup games and can be hard on your [pitching] staff. We have 10 players on the team that will see work on the mound. We have a great makeup of personalities and unselfish players willing to play anywhere on the diamond. We [also] have a good mix of veterans and younger first-year varsity players.”

Nelsen said Camden Hills, Medomak Valley and Lincoln Academy of Newcastle are among local teams who the Tigers will likely find to be point worthy this season, while Gardiner and Winslow are typically among the league elite.

“Playing in the KVAC, you have to be ready each and every game and take nothing for granted,” he said.

The Tigers will begin the regular season on Friday, April 23 at 4:15 p.m. when they host Midcoast rival Camden Hills.

Village NetMedia Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at mhaskell@villagesoup.com.