As usual, things are changing with American Legion Baseball. That’s especially true in Zone 2, but change isn’t always negative. The upshot this year is that Zone 2 has six good teams while central Maine has three teams in Junior Legion.

Lincoln County became the latest team to fold — joining South China Subway and Waterville from recent years — because it did not have enough players. The six remaining teams — Franklin County, Gardiner, Madison, Post 51, The First, and The Red Barn — have strong interest this summer.

“We had to cut nine kids,” Franklin County coach Kyle Gunzinger said. “When I first took over, six kids showed up (for tryouts).”

Lincoln County dropped out so recently that its games were simply dropped from the league schedule. That means only four teams will be in action on most scheduled game days. All six teams will make the playoffs. The top two finishers in the regular season will receive byes to the Zone 2 double-elimination tournament, which is July 19-21. The other four teams will play, with the winners joining the top two seeds in the Zone tournament.

The Zone tournament is traditionally in Augusta, but will be moved this season because of field conflicts. Madison has expressed interest in hosting the tournament at Memorial Field in Skowhegan, but nothing has been finalized.

Franklin County (3-0 entering the week) got off to a nice start by defeating Madison and then sweeping a doubleheader with Gardiner this weekend. The Flyers have 10 players on their roster from Mt. Blue, five from Mt. Abram, and three from Spruce Mountain. Twelve of those 18 are healthy pitchers, which means Gunzinger can use Cam Abbott as a closer.

“He likes it a lot, actually,” Gunzinger said. “It keeps you under 20 pitches an outing, and in my mind it lets you affect every game instead of one a week.”

The Flyers have seven right-handers and five left-handers on the roster. Gunzinger’s plan was to use five different starting pitchers for the first five games.

“I think it’s a big advantage because the Legion season’s so squeezed together,” he said. “I’m also trying to limit the pitch counts to save arms.”

While Gardiner Area High School is Gardiner’s core school, coach Dan Burdin said most of the players are from Oak Hill and Monmouth. Gardiner (1-2) also picked up two players when Lincoln County folded.

“Most of them, maybe besides three, are returning players,” Burdin said. “We were pretty young last year. I think we have nine or 10 16-year-olds.”

Burdin said defense will be the key.

“You can’t give these guys four or five outs in Legion, or you’re going to lose,” he said.

Madison (2-3) always has a strong turnout, and that means the Post 39ers will also have a Junior Legion team, which is coached by Oakley Jones.

“We’ve got three kids who are swinging (between the teams),” Madison coach Peter Kirby said. “They’ve got some good ballplayers. Some of those kids would be playing for me if it wasn’t for us having so many older kids.”

Madison has three players who were on the Thomas College roster this spring (Taylor Bacon, Garrett Emery and Kam Nelson), as well as Trevor Hisler, who plays for UMaine-Farmington. Most of the players are Skowhegan-based, along with some players from Madison and Valley’s Dylan Belanger and Cody Laweryson. Madison plays its home games at Madison Area Memorial High School during the week and at Skowhegan’s Memorial Field on weekends.

At Post 51 (3-1), Messalonskee coach Ray Bernier and Lawrence coach Rusty Mercier are the co-coaches, with Thomas College pitcher Isiah Fleming also helping out and Messalonskee junior varsity coach Dale Breton handling the paperwork. Post 51 has players from Messalonskee and Lawrence, as well as Waterville’s Darren Forkey, AJ Godin, and Dan Pooler. Post 51 plays its home games at Colby College, and Scott Ballard coaches the Fairfield Post 14 Junior Legion squad.

The First (1-3) is an almost even mix of players from Oceanside and Camden Hills. Both teams were 12-4 during the high school season. Bob Wolff is the new coach for The First, which gets its name from a bank in Rockland.

The new coach for The Red Barn (1-2) is Maranacook coach Eric Brown. The Red Barn represents Augusta Post 205, and Brown is no stranger to Legion Baseball, having coached O’Brien Oil in the past. He also assisted former Red Barn coach Don Plourde last season.

Brown said 32 players tried out for the team — the maximum you can have on a Legion roster is 18 — and there have been about 15 players at every game. The Red Barn has players from six schools — Cony, Erskine, Hall-Dale, Maranacook, Kents Hill, and St. Dominic. Carson Dalheim and Tucker Whitman are 2013 Maranacook graduates who are back with The Red Barn this summer.

That interest also helped spawn a Junior Legion team, which is coached by Ed Bowie.

“(Post 205) took Erskine on, so we figured we were going to have an influx of kids,” Bowie said. “If we kept the status quo, there’d be 10-12 kids who wanted to play baseball, but couldn’t.”

Bowie said Dave Barden and Rick Cummings were big factors in getting the team off the ground. There are 17 players on the Junior Legion roster, covering ages 14 to 16.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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