It didn’t take a magic 8-Ball to figure that Messalonskee and Skowhegan would move their season-opening softball game from Oakland to Skowhegan. Messalonskee’s field sits at the bottom of a hill, while Skowhegan’s has been in good shape for more than a week.

Tuesday’s rain didn’t help much, but the teams are scheduled to play at 1 p.m., Wednesday, in Skowhegan.

“(Our field’s) got water on it, but we’ll see what happens,” Skowhegan coach Lee Johnson said. “They’ll work on the field (Wednesday) morning, I’m sure.”

It’s an interesting matchup, especially for this early in the season. Skowhegan is the defending Class A state champion, but graduated both pitchers and several other starters. Messalonskee could be one of the top teams in Eastern A this season.

Johnson said one thing he’d like to see on Wednesday is some signs that his players believe in themselves.

“Just kids finding some sort of a confidence,” he said. “It’s all new for them. They’re playing for a new coach, new teammates. Hopefully, we’ll be aggressive. It’s pretty normal to be somewhat passive early in the year.”

• • •

Waterville coach Mistie Bickford is in much the same boat (pardon the pun). The Purple Panthers played on their field on Monday, then watched it get drenched on Tuesday. Still, Bickford is optimistic about Wednesday’s home game against Winslow getting played as scheduled.

“I’m hoping, as long as it doesn’t downpour tonight, we can get tomorrow’s game in,” Bickford said Tuesday evening. The AD (Heidi Bernier) is going to go out first thing in the morning and let me know.”

Waterville, which is coming off an 0-16 season, scrimmaged Morse at home on Monday, and gave a promising showing by shutting out the Shipbuilders for five innings.

“We’ve been really focusing on playing the game without fear of making mistakes,” Bickford said.

• • •

Mt. Blue softball is scheduled to be at Brunswick for an 11 a.m. game on Wednesday. That means the Cougars would have to leave the school at around 8:30, so they’ll find out early in the morning whether there’s still a game.

Mt. Blue coach Chuck Wallace said the Cougars haven’t yet been on their field at the high school.

“It’s almost a Bill Cosby commercial right now,” Wallace said. “It’s pudding, 100 percent.”

The weather in Farmington hasn’t made things any easier. Wallace said the team had a varsity and JV practice on Monday at the University of Maine at Farmington.

“The second I left, I had sleet bouncing off my windshield,” he said.

The Cougars are breaking in Caitlin Kane as the new pitcher. Wallace said Kane will start, with Taylor Burke and Chelsea Kane available in relief.

• • •

When spring practices started up one month ago, Richmond softball coach Rick Coughlin said it would take a miracle for his two-time defending Class D champion Bobcats to open the season at home as scheduled on April 24 with a doubleheader against Vinalhaven/North Haven.

As recently as Monday, it appeared the Bobcats could believe in miracles. Mother Nature cooperated sufficiently in the last four weeks, melting the snow and drying the field so they could host their first and only preseason game against Mt. Abram.

At that point, according to Coughlin, the field was in “super” shape. But heavy rain Monday night into Tuesday set conditions back a couple of weeks and put Thursday’s opener in doubt.

The East-West Conference schedule-makers gave the Bobcats nine of 15 regular season games at home, The league front-loaded the slate with the Bobcats playing all nine at home before they step on the bus for their first road trip, which is to Buckfield on May 19. The hope was to take advantage of the conference’s southern-most school while fields in northern outposts such as Rangeley, Bingham and Jackman dried off.

“Right now, our field is wet,” Coughlin said late Tuesday afternoon. “I’m not really sure about Thursday. Hopefully, we can play.”

Thursday’s doubleheader is the first of three the Bobcats have scheduled at home, with twinbills against Greenville and Forest Hills set for May 9 and 16, respectively.

Even if the opener gets pushed back, Coughlin doesn’t have to worry about overworking sophomore ace Meranda Martin because he has freshman Sydney Tilton ready to take on some of the load.

“I’m very fortunate to have two pitchers, so (rainouts and doubleheaders) aren’t really going to affect me this year,” he said.

Tilton will catch when she’s not pitching, Coughlin said. Sophomore Camryn Hurley, who caught Martin last year, will play the outfield when Martin is pitching and catch when Tilton is in the circle.

Tilton has strengthened the pitching staff, but her greatest impact may be in the batting order, where she will bat third.

“I’ve coached 29 years and I don’t think I’ve had anyone hit the ball as hard as she does. She is incredible,” Coughlin said.

Tilton’s presence lengthens a batting order that didn’t lose a single player from last year’s unbeaten state title team and appears to have improved from top to bottom.

“We’re hitting the ball extremely well,” Coughlin said. “I’m anxious to get the season going.”

• • •

The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference opens the 2015 softball season on Wednesday with a full slate of games. Gardiner is scheduled to open its season against Maranacook with a new coach, Don Brochu, and seven returning starters.

The Tigers have reached the regional final the last two years and expect to challenge for an Eastern B title, Brochu said. The hope is to be playing their best softball at the right time so they can get over the hump and win their first regional since 1980. “We’re still expecting to be up there. We’re shooting for the finals again,” he said. “We’re going to try to slow things down a little bit so we’re peaking at the end. We’ve been trying to go through all the little things and take care of that early so we can take care of business when we’re supposed to.”

Brochu, an assistant coach last year who took over as head coach when Ginger Shaw resigned, knows he’ll have to lean more on senior pitcher Kristal Smith this year. Smith formed a tough 1-2 punch in the circle with Brittany Rollins last year but is the lone ace this spring with Rollins’ graduation. Brochu said Smith threw six solid innings in an exhibition against Messalonskee on Monday and is ready to go.

The Tigers also played Bangor, Skowhegan and Hall-Dale in the preseason, so Brochu had plenty of chances to get his varsity and JV players some playing time. The Tigers showed some firepower beyond the top of the order of Bri Brochu, Lilly Chepke and Morgan Carver, and Brochu said he is still tinkering with the lineup to find the right combinations.

“Some of it is set. Some of it is still rotating around,” Brochu said. “Messalonskee has a good pitcher who we faced in Kristen Pelletier and they hit her pretty hard.”

Each year, the Tigers seem to have a surprise freshman step in and make an immediate impact and this year it appears Logan Granholm with continue that tradition as a utility player seeing time mostly at second base and in center field.

Maranacook will be forced to throw some of its youngest players into the first this week because the Black Bears are going to start the season a little shorthanded. Several starters are away on class trips and college visits and will miss the opener and Friday’s game at Spruce Mountain in Jay.

The Black Bears should be bolstered by the return of senior Kaitlyn Chick, a speedy center fielder who missed last season with an ankle injury, and sophomore infielder Leah Pouliot, who also sat out last spring. Co-coach Don Beckwith said his team should be in good shape if it can stay above water this week and through a tough early-season schedule that also includes Winslow and Nokomis.

“By the end of the season, we should be okay. It will take a good team to beat us,” he said. “We can’t be worried about the beginning of the season. We just got to keep our heads up and keep working. I think at the end we’ll be able to hit with anybody.”

 


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