Jul. 30—Oxford Hills coach Shane Slicer describes senior catcher Andrew Merrill as "the best hitter in the league."
Merrill finished his senior season with a .500 batting average while driving in 25 runs and scoring 24. Merrill also hit three home runs, two triples and seven doubles. His hitting helped Oxford Hills to a 14-3 season and the No. 2 seed in the Class A North tournament.
Merrill was voted to the All-KVAC first team and the Varsity Maine All-State team. He also has been chosen as the Sun Journal's All-Region Baseball Player of the Year.
"He was just fantastic," Slicer said.
Merrill's final statistics belie the slow start Merrill had. He and Slicer both admit that Merrill was more focused on hitting the ball hard than hitting it well at the beginning of the season.
"He struggled early, and I was like, 'He's trying to hit the ball too far,'" Slicer said. "Then he got on a roll and he was willing to hit the ball where it was pitched, and he was a weapon and he was awesome."
The change, Merrill said, was spurred by a series of talks he had with assistant coach Joseph Oufiero.
"Coach Oufiero, our assistant, talked to me a lot throughout the year about not trying to make too much happen," Merrill said. "Just putting a good swing on the ball. Not trying to hit a home run every time was the most important thing, and I think it's what made me run into those home runs because I wasn't trying to hit those home runs, they just kind of came to me."
Those home runs also came to Merrill because of the power that he has developed through strength training.
"I've got a great strength coach over at True Strength, coach Jesse Wall, and he helps me out and I do some lessons with him, lifts with him, and he helps me get strong," Merrill said.
"His bat strength is phenomenal," Slicer added. "Ask anyone who has ever caught, it takes a lot out of you and your batting will suffer. But for him, it didn't seem to, and I think that's because of his offseason training and how he took care of his body."
As a senior, and a player who learned a lot from his teammates as a freshman on the Vikings' Class A North championship team in 2019, Merrill strived to be a leader for Oxford Hills this spring.
"I played varsity my freshman year as well, and that was a great group of teammates," Merrill said. "I learned a lot about how to treat each other as teammates and hold each other to a high standard. They taught me a lot and so I tried to instill that in this new team. It's pretty much a new team because we lost like, nine seniors that year. Me and Isaiah (Oufiero) tried to keep that same attitude from that freshman year."
Merrill said his goal was to lead the team to a successful season. Slicer said it was evident early on that Merrill was the Vikings' leader.
"I don't officially (name) captains, but he became a leader," Slicer said. "I think, first and foremost, he's been around the block a long time. He started the championship game as a freshman when we played in the state game in 2019. He just became a real leader of the team. Other than that, his play was fantastic. He's a great catcher, he hit awesome.
"So I think, for me, it was his team, really. It was his team. I think that was his role. He stepped up and it became his team."
Along with being a power-hitting leader, Merrill also is a strong-armed catcher.
"He has a cannon, a really strong arm, as strong as I've had, and that says a lot," Slicer said. "I've had a ton of great catchers, and he's as good as I've ever had. It's every-day work ethic. He would block a ball in practice, he'd work hard in warm-ups, everything. As a catcher, he kept guys from stealing. No one would steal against him. They wouldn't even try, and if they did they had a 50-50 chance.
"I think it was just a toughness. His progression was he got tougher as he got older. He was willing to put his nose in front of everything and do the best job he could. He's a great worker and is intense."
Merrill will continue his baseball career next year at Eastern Connecticut State University, which earlier this spring won the NCAA Division III national championship.
"I am super excited to step into such a super competitive program and try to earn a spot. It'll be a ton of fun," Merrill said.