In the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A division, everybody is still chasing Bangor. The three-time defending state champion Rams have a new coach, Dave Morris. The longtime Bangor American Legion coach and former head coach at Brewer, Morris takes over the team that many coaches see as the one that’s still the team to beat.

“Bangor’s always the team until somebody knocks them off,” Messalonskee coach Ray Bernier said.

Bernier’s Eagles, along with Edward Little, Oxford Hills and Mt. Ararat, should contend for top playoff spots this season. Messalonskee’s strength is its pitching, with the return of Josh Joy and Dustin Brown to the top of the rotation. Joy has 13 wins in his career, and will pitch at Division II power Franklin Pierce in college.

Bernier said his roster is full of versatile athletes who can play a number of positions. Colby Dexter could see time behind the plate and in center field. Dylan Brown will play second and third base. Senior newcomer James Kouletsis has been a leadership spark, Bernier said, and junior Tyler Lewis could play anywhere in the field and lead the offense.

“Lewis is my most complete hitter. He’s the whole offensive package,” Bernier said.

Another team with a number of returning players is Lawrence. The Bulldogs won nine games last season and hope to build off that success.

“We lost two key guys but we have a lot of experienced returners,” Lawrence coach Rusty Mercier said.

Eric Jackson and Braden Ballard are two varsity-tested pitchers, and the return of Devon Webb at catcher gives Lawrence a leader on the field. Colby Lawrence (outfield), Brandon Hill (second base-pitcher) and Josh Dow (outfield-pitcher) are among the other top returners to the Bulldogs lineup.

The numbers are down at Cony, which is looking to improve on a 6-11 season and preliminary round exit in last year’s playoffs, and the Rams will bring their whole roster to games rather than an exclusive varsity one. According to coach Don Plourde, however, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I think it’s going to be a really competitive year because I’m going to bring the whole squad to every game,” he said. “There are going to be two, three, even four players battling for a position. … Guys are going to have to win positions.”

Cony will also have to manage after losing six players to graduation. Senior Kolbe Merfeld will lead the way on the mound, and Taylor Heath, Kaleb Harding, Danny White and Jake Dacus will provide pitching support, even though they lack mound experience in varsity action.

“I think we’ll be in every game,” Plourde said. “I think if we eliminate mistakes, we can play well with everybody.”

Skowhegan lost a large senior class to graduation, but coach Mike LeBlanc has liked what he’s seen in the preseason.

“We have a lot of young kids mixed in. They’ve showed a lot of promise,” said LeBlanc, who added 40 players came out for tryouts.

Seniors Brendan Curran and Garrett McSweeney have the most experience on the mound. Sophomores Colby Miller and Marcus Christopher, senior Michael Berry and junior Colby Estes also will pitch. Senior Adam Turcotte (second base) and junior John Blodgett (utility) also will be key players for the Indians.

Improved defense is a focus, LeBlanc said.

“We can’t be giving away outs, especially with the new pitching rules,” LeBlanc said, referring to the pitch count limits new to Maine high school baseball this season.

New coach Steve Lancaster takes over Mt. Blue, which seeks a dramatic improvement from last year’s two-win season. A Mt. Blue graduate, Lancaster played for the University of Maine in the mid-1990s before an arm injury shortened his career. Previously, Lancaster coached junior varsity baseball at Spruce Mountain.

“I graduated from Mt. Blue in 1994 and I’m very sentimental about this baseball program,” Lancaster said. “I think if the talent on the team is utilized efficiently, we can be competitive.”

Lancaster thinks the Cougars’ strengths are experience and defense. Senior Miles Pelletier is the staff ace and also will play third base. Senior shortstop Alex Philbrick and senior second baseman David McDonald should be strong up the middle. Junior Ethan Andrews returns behind the plate and has a strong arm, Lancaster said.