Baseball: Caleb Phillips handling leadership role for Lisbon from catcher's spot

·5 min read

Jun. 16—A clash on the diamond is nothing new to Lisbon catcher Caleb Phillips.

Phillips was ejected from last year's Class C South semifinal game against Oak Hill for arguing with an Oak Hill player after a hard slide into teammate Hunter Brissette at second base, causing Phillips to miss the regional final loss against Monmouth.

For the past 12 months, the ejection has been on the senior's mind.

As the Greyhounds got off the bus to play their Class C South championship game against Maranacook on Tuesday, Phillips confirmed to coach Randy Ridley what Ridley had long known: That Phillips had matured greatly.

"We talked about that (Tuesday) as we got off the bus," Phillips said. "I said, 'In the last year, as a person, I've gotten not as upset at things, I've let things go.' My bat has been a struggle and last year I would've been down and out, but this year I know I have to be in the field."

Just two innings into the game on Tuesday, Phillips was thrown into a spot that tested his maturity the most since his ejection a year prior.

Maranacook's Trent Murray struck out with two runners on base, giving Lisbon its second out of the top of the second. Then, Phillips saw that Brayden St. Pierre was taking a big lead off of third and immediately threw to Levi Tibbetts at third base to try and catch St. Pierre in a rundown. Tibbetts threw back to Phillips as St. Pierre then lowered his shoulder into Phillips. St. Pierre was called out on the play and thrown out of the game as a result of his collision with Phillips.

It was a moment in which many on the Lisbon side held their collective breath as they waited to see how Phillips would react.

"He hit me pretty hard and my first instinct is to go back at him, but then I thought, 'I can't do that. I have to stay,'" Phillips said. "The umpire handled it how he should have and I went to the dugout. Younger me would have been more selfish but I know now that this is not the time at all. I learned the hard way that I can't make that mistake again."

Ridley and players alike agreed on Wednesday that a younger version of Phillips would have handled that differently, but that Phillips has matured.

"He handled it perfectly," Ridley said. "He did his job and I could tell he was very upset, but I could see in his eyes that he was upset but there was a different look. He was in control of his emotions and he didn't let them control him. That's what I was most impressed with. I was about to run in between them but I looked and he was fine. It was a very proud moment for me to see him take that step in maturity."

One of Phillips' senior teammates sees that growth, too.

"(He has matured) 100 percent, especially after (Tuesday) night," Ferrence added Wednesday. "Last year, I don't know what it was but as a team, even, we didn't connect. But this year, he is better and so are we, and I was glad he didn't react last night."

Phillips has taken over the catcher role full time this year after Justin Le graduated last year.

Immediately, Phillips fit right into the role due to his connection with pitchers Ferrence, Brissette, Mason Booker and Tibbetts. Phillips has grown up playing on the same baseball teams as Ferrence and Brissette, so this year the connection is seamless.

The connection is so strong that during a home game against Dirigo this spring, Ferrence was pitching a perfect game and had an 0-2 count with two outs before shaking off a pitch call from Phillips for the first time all game.

"I was up 0-2 and I had a slider that I never really throw," Ferrence said. "I usually stick with the curveball and fastball. I was pitching good, so I tried my slider and I hung it out there and he dropped it over the first baseman's head. So then I never shook him off."

Brissette doesn't shake Phillips off often, as well, and got burned for a single in the first inning against Maranacook when he did.

"Hunter rarely shakes me off and if he does, he's over-confident, so I love that," Phillips said. "Mason and Levi also trust me and I trust them right back. If I give them a spot and they're willing to follow me, I have confidence in them. It's awesome, and it's awesome for Ridley, too, because it takes a bit of pressure off him, too."

Ridley said he has total confidence in his catcher to make the pitch calls and throws to third base, like against Maranacook, or to second base to catch Monmouth's Hayden Fletcher in a rundown to win the semifinal game against the Mustangs last Saturday.

"Trust-wise, I have 100-percent trust in him making those decisions," Ridley said. "He is a gutsy ball player. He will take chances and it's not out of control. It's a controlled situation and you pick your spots when you do that. He's aggressive and he's done it all year. He's picked off five guys at first, then got the guy at second against Monmouth, then at third on Tuesday. He picks his spot and he has great awareness."

Ridley said he stays out of the pitch-calling because he's not playing. He knows that Phillips has strong connections with the infielders and that the right play will be made.

"The pitchers explicitly trust Caleb when he's calling a game," Ridley said. "You rarely see any of our pitchers shake off a throw. They have 100-percent confidence in him. There's an internal, unspoken communication with the fielders and him. Levi (Tuesday) night, Nick (Ferrence) in the Monmouth game, they just have to look at each other and they know what is going to happen. There is some great communication and they have great feel for each other. They trust him explicitly."