Aly LeBlanc has been waiting for Monday for weeks. Why wouldn’t she?

Monday was the first day high school baseball and softball coaches could practice with their pitchers and catchers. For LeBlanc, a junior at Madison and the Bulldogs’ starting catcher the last two seasons, it was her first softball practice as a defending state champion. Madison won the Class C title by defeating Calais, 1-0, last spring.

“It was really exciting,” LeBlanc said of the first day of practice. “I know as a team, we’ve been really excited, ever since basketball got over, for the snow to start melting and get back together, even if it’s just in the gym.”

Of course, it was “just the gym” for all local teams, and it probably will be for a while. Still, like opening day and the first tournament game, the first day of practice is a welcome milestone.

“It definitely felt good to be with the group,” LeBlanc said.

Emily McKenney, Madison’s No. 1 pitcher the last two seasons, is now a freshman at Thomas College. That means LeBlanc will be counted on to use her experience and work in tandem with a new ace.

“This part of the year, it’s mainly for us to get back into things and see where everybody’s at,” LeBlanc said. “Today, we just worked on a few different things, and tried to find a rhythm.”

Messalonskee also held its first baseball and softball practices on Monday. Leo Bouchard is back for his 10th season with the softball team, while the new baseball coach is Pete McLaughlin, Messalonskee’s boys basketball coach. McLaughlin played baseball both at Lawrence High School and the University of Maine at Farmington.

“Behind the scenes, I’ve always been a baseball guy,” McLaughlin said. “In high school, that was kind of my sport. At Lawrence, baseball’s kind of the third or fourth sport for a lot of guys. For me, it was my No. 1. I’ve had a number of the guys in my basketball program, and then I’ve had a number of the guys in my classroom. I knew that (they were) great kids, work really, really hard. I missed baseball a ton.”

McLaughlin was mainly a catcher as a player, so he was clearly in his element on Monday.

“I can’t say I’m going to be one position versus another,” McLaughlin said. “Obviously, I’m naturally drawn to the catchers, just because that’s where I spent about 95 percent of my baseball career. I think, as a catcher, that you have so much influence over the rest of the game. You’re a major leader there. We have Trevor Gettig, who is a three-year starter behind the dish. He’s definitely a leader that we’re going to be counting on, and he’s ready for it.”

One of the players who will have McLaughlin as coach for two sports is Nick Mayo, the state’s Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of the Year. Mayo is back after sitting out last season. He said he hopes to pitch and play some first base.

“My only year I didn’t play was last year,” Mayo said. “I’ve played ever since I was a little kid. I kind of missed it. I had the chance to play, so I said, ‘Why not?’ Getting back on the field again, I feel good.”

At Skowhegan, softball coach Lee Johnson took some time to think about it, and decided to return as the Indians’ softball coach. Skowhegan won the Class A state title last spring, and Johnson’s daughter, Taylor, was a senior.

“It was a hard decision, to be honest with you,” Lee Johnson said. “I thought for sure I’d be done once my kids graduated, but I have a really strong connection with some of the younger kids. And I really thought I would miss it.”

Johnson said he was torn between two approaches. On one hand, leaving after a state title in his daughter’s last game would be the perfect way to go out. On the other hand, he worried that if he did step away, he’d regret it.

Over the past several winters, Johnson and his coaches have been conducting clinics each Sunday for the younger players.

“I’m pretty excited about where our program is headed,” Johnson said.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo


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