Sometimes all it takes is a spark to light an offense on fire.

Oak Hill found the spark it needed when sophomore catcher Emma Hlister moved back into the leadoff spot. Now the Raiders are scoring runs in bunches.

Hlister, who hit leadoff last year, started the season batting third for the Raiders (5-3). But when they lost three of their first four, coach Allyson Collins moved Hlister back to the top of the order, and the offense has been clicking ever since.

“We definitely needed a catalyst with the rough go at the beginning of the season,” Collins said. “Emma just finds a way to get on base.”

Hlister and power-hitting junior Jamie Prue lead an offense that’s scored 78 runs over the course of the Raiders’ victories over Wiscasset, St. Dominic, Mt. Abram, Monmouth and Winthrop.

Oak Hill’s pitching has settled in lately, too. Senior Sadie Goulet and junior Makayla Nadeau have split time in the circle and have thrown three shutouts in the last four games.

“They’re different pitchers,” Collins said. “Sadie is more of a finesse pitcher and Makayla is a little quicker.”

Oak Hill’s 1-3 start included losses to Hall-Dale, Madison and Dirigo, the top three teams in the Western C Heal points standings as of Tuesday afternoon. While the Raiders are now on the winning track, they know they’ll have to start collecting Heal points if they want to make the Western B playoffs. They’ll have that opportunity starting Wednesday when they travel to Lisbon, then host Carrabec, Boothbay and Mountain Valley before facing Telstar in Bethel. Rematches with Hall-Dale and Madison also loom at the end of the season.

• • •

Madison started an important week in defense of its Class C state title with a 2-1 win over Telstar on Monday.

“(The Telstar win) was a big win,” Madison coach Chris LeBlanc said. “Any time you go over there and take on a Jim Lunney-coached team, you know you’re going up against a well-coached team.”

On Thursday, the Bulldogs host the other Bulldogs of the Mountain Valley Conference, Hall-Dale, who just so happen to be nipping at Madison’s heels in the most recent Western C Heal point standings.

Both teams are 7-1.

“Right from the beginning of the year, I felt Hall-Dale was the team to beat in the MVC based on what they had returning,” LeBlanc said.

Madison had plenty of talent coming back, too. But LeBlanc said there’s a different dynamic to this year’s team. Last year, the Bulldogs leaned heavily on their outstanding pitcher, Emily McKenney, en route to the title. This spring, with McKenney graduated, not only have the Bulldogs divvied up pitching duties among Kayla Bess, Erin Whalen and Madeline Wood, but they’ve expected, and gotten, contributions from a greater number of players in the lineup than last year.

“I’m very happy with the team concept this year. Everybody has bought into it,” LeBlanc said.

“We came out very strong and were very surprised how we’re hitting the ball with our whole team, really from top to bottom,” he said.

The Bulldogs put up double digits in the run column in four of their first six games, and scored seven and nine runs in the two games they stayed in single digits. They cooled off some in the 2-1 win over Telstar, but played small-ball effectively to get Whalen in position to score the tying run before freshman Whitney Bess drove her in with a triple and eventually scored the winning run.

As the defending state champions, Madison has played with a target on its back this year, LeBlanc said. That’s not such a bad thing in a league that has shown a lot of parity through the first half of the season.

“The MVC is wide open. I tell our girls any given night we can be beat. We know what we need to do going in,” he said.

• • •

Softball success is tied to talent, but it’s tied to timing, too.

Richmond sophomore pitcher Meranda Martin strained her quad in Richmond’s 7-3 win over Buckfield in May 1. At one time, the injury might have been cause for concern for Richmond coach Rick Coughlin, but not in 2015.

“If it happened last year, we’d have been in a little bit of trouble,” Coughlin said.

But the Bobcats continue to roll, extending their winning streak to 41 games with last Saturday’s doubleheader sweep of Greenville. Martin sat out the first game of that doubleheader as freshman pitcher Sydney Tilton handled the Lakers in a 15-3 win. Martin pitched in the second game and tossed a 14-0 shutout in five innings.

“It’s good to be able to rest her for one game and then throw her another,” Coughlin said. “Last year, she pitched every single game.”

Martin pitched the Bobcats to their second consecutive Class D state title as a freshman. She doesn’t like being forced to the sideline due to an injury, but doesn’t mind having some help in the circle this year.

“It’s nice just being able to sit back and relax,” Martin said. “I have a lot of confidence in Syd. She’s a good player. It just gives me a little break and just gets a lot of stuff on my back. I don’t have as much pressure.”

Tilton also serves as Martin’s catcher and finds that perspective helps her when she takes over in the circle.

“You learn from different batters, what they can do, what they can not do. You get that experience as a catcher and a pitcher and that’s more than I can ask for,” Tilton said.

• • •

The next week is chock full of games that prove critical in deciding the final Heals, or at least bragging rights in ancient rivalries. In Class A, Messalonskee travels to Auburn to face Edward Little in a big showdown on Thursday, then hosts Cony next Monday. EL and Skowhegan also clash in an important game next Monday. In Eastern B, Nokomis heads to Rockland to face Oceanside today and rivals Waterville and Winslow square off next Monday. In Class C West, Madison hosts Hall-Dale in a meeting of two of the top teams in the Mountain Valley Conference, then the Bulldogs travel to Dixfield to take on Dirigo in another critical matchup on Monday. The marquee matchup in Western D pits the top two teams in the East/West Conference on Tuesday when Buckfield hosts Richmond.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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