Maine’s American Legion landscape underwent major changes during the offseason, shrinking from five to four zones and giving six teams from central Maine new leagues. With the regular season set to get into full swing this week, teams are finally starting to see what the new competition looks like.

With the number of teams dwindling in central Maine, legion officials contracted the former Zone 2 and redistributed the six remaining teams from the zone. The Madison 39ers (Madison and Skowhegan), Post 51 of Oakland (Messalonskee and Lawrence) and Midcoast of Rockland joined Zone 1, now a 10-team zone consisting of mostly Bangor area teams. The former Zone 3, now Zone 2, added the Augusta Elks (Cony, Maranacook and Hall-Dale), Franklin County (Mt. Blue, Spruce Mountain and Rangeley) and Gardiner (Gardiner, Monmouth, Oak Hill and Winthrop) to what is now a 12-team league with teams from Androscoggin, Franklin, Oxford and Sagadahoc counties.

Coaches agreed that changing zones and competing against new teams should make the action on the field a little more unpredictable, and should add excitement to the two-month Legion season.

“Seeing different faces is nice,” Augusta coach Tim Rodrigue said. “They don’t know a lot about you and you don’t know a lot about them.”

“I think it’s going to be a nice experience for our kids,” Post 51 coach Rusty Mercier said. “The baseball is a little elevated in that zone. We’ll be playing two nine-inning games a week, and playing four days a week, too. So it really is conducive to kids who are committed to baseball, and it will allow us to go a little deeper into our roster and get a lot of kids on the field.”

Zone 2 commissioner Todd Cifelli said the revamped zone has “the feel of the old KVAC,” before the conference added Bangor-area teams. He noted that the zone now has three teams who made last year’s state tournament — Franklin County, Pastime Club of Lewiston and Bessey Motors of South Paris.

“I think it’s going to create more competition and more competition will make the teams and players better,” he said.

The two zones have produced four of the last five state champions, including the defending champion from Zone 1, Coffee News Comrades of Bangor.

Both zones play 18-game regular-season schedules. Zone 1 plays single games on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Wednesday and Sunday games are nine innings, Monday and Friday games seven innings.

Zone 2 plays single games on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with doubleheaders on Saturdays. All regular season games are seven innings.

Zone 1 will hold a six-team zone tournament July 22-26 at Husson University. The top eight teams in Zone 2 qualify for the zone tournament, which will be held July 21-25. The first round will be single-elimination and played at the higher seed. The remainder of the tournament will be double-elimination and played at Augusta’s CARA complex on Piggery Road.

The top two teams in each zone advance to the state tournament, which is July 29 through Aug. 2 in South Portland.

All postseason games are nine innings.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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