After a somewhat surprising run to the Class A state championship last season, Messalonskee softball coach Leo Bouchard knew his team would face even more pressure this season to repeat.

So far the Eagles have responded, going 6-0 without allowing a run.

“My seniors who were juniors last year are much better,” Bouchard said.

One of those seniors is pitcher Kirsten Pelletier, who last year struck out 12 batters in a 1-0 win against Scarborough in the state championship game. So far, Pelletier is averaging just under 11 strikeouts per game including a couple of five-inning stints shortened due to the mercy rule.

“There’s no question she’s better this year,” Bouchard said. “She’s more confident, she has more command of her pitches.”

Pelletier is also batting third in the lineup and hitting over .400.

“She’s improved a lot in every category,” Bouchard said.

Pelletier, who plans to play at Bates College next year, has a veteran battery mate in senior Taylor Easler.

“Taylor calls all the pitches,” Bouchard said. “We’re almost always on the same page.”

The Eagles did face some adversity when two of their returning starters — Cassidy Baker and Dakota Bragg — went down with knee injuries late in the basketball season and were lost for the softball year. Sophomore Sarah Labbe has taken over for Baker at third base and played “phenomenally well” according to Bouchard. That also includes at the plate where she already has eight doubles. Senior Katie Guarino has taken over at first base, moving back after two years at Mount Desert Island. Madisyn Charest, another senior, anchors the infield at shortstop.

“Her defensive game has really improved,” Bouchard said. “These girls are really smart when it comes to defense. They’re always thinking.”

The Eagles begin their toughest stretch of the regular season Friday when they host 5-1 Bangor. Lewiston comes in next Monday followed by a game against unbeaten Edward Little.

“All three games are home,” Bouchard said. “We’ve got to take at least two out of three.”

• • •

The sacrifices that come with a spring trip to Florida, in the long run, are worth it, according to Madison softball coach Chris LeBlanc.

The Bulldogs played 10 games at the ESPN Center in Orlando prior to beginning their season last month and finished 8-2. Among their opponents were Maine teams from Presque Isle and Windham.

LeBlanc was pleased with his team’s effort although he admitted playing games every day is no substitute for practice, especially in preseason. The team bonding that takes place offsets the fund-raising necessary for such a trip. The players and some of their family members who went along were able to visit three theme parks in addition to playing their games.

Madison has gone on the trip every other year for the past few years, primarily because it takes a year to raise funds since Maine Principals’ Association rules prohibit fund-raising out of season. LeBlanc said it costs about $1,500 per player and at least one player raised all the money necessary through her own fund-raising efforts.

After winning eight games, LeBlanc questioned if his team was as good as he thought it was or if the competition was weaker than in the past.

Turns out the Bulldogs are every bit as good if not better than last season when they went 15-1. They were 5-0 entering Thursday’s game against Boothbay. Madeline Wood has pitched 26 of the team’s 33 innings, striking out 39 batters while walking one. Overall, Madison pitching has fanned 37 batters and walked three. LeBlanc is still waiting for a couple of his big bats to come alive but others have taken up the slack. Sophomore Ashley Emery is batting .667 followed by Sydney LeBlanc at .500 and Destiny Howes at .455.

“We came alive Monday against Dirigo,” said LeBlanc in reference to his team’s 15-hit, five-inning attack. “They were smashes.”

The Bulldogs host unbeaten Telstar on Monday in a game the team has been looking forward to for almost a year.

“That is a huge game,” LeBlanc said. “They defeated us in the regional championship game. That was our last loss.”

• • •

After losing just five games in her previous three years on the Gardiner softball team, senior Bri Brochu finds herself in an unusual spot. First, she’s the only senior on a team loaded with freshmen. At one point in last week’s game against Nokomis, the Tigers had seven freshmen on the field.

Second, a dislocated shoulder has relegated Brochu to hitting only. That changed this week when she played center field for the Tigers.

“I try to be a good example,” Brochu said. “It’s a lot easier when I’m out in the field.”

Brochu is normally an infielder but her father and coach Don Brochu believes she could more easily injure her shoulder playing infield. She’s already dislocated it twice, first in November and later in preseason this spring.

“Right now I’m just building my strength back until I get surgery on it,” she said.

Brochu said she’ll have it operated on at the end of the season and will miss summer softball during the 6-8 week recovery time. None of this has affected her performance at the plate.

After missing the first game of the season, she’s made just one out in her next four games, belting a home run, a triple and a few doubles. It’s her left shoulder that’s dislocated and she’s a left-handed hitter.

“I just keep it tucked in and close to my body,” she said.

Nor has it affected her base-running. Down 16-3 last week to Nokomis, Brochu reached on an infield hit, took second on a low throw and stole third. With two outs and the Tigers facing a 12-run mercy ruling, Brochu stole home to prolong the game — an eventual 16-7 loss — another inning.

“I just didn’t want to get mercied,” she said.

Brochu, who plans to attend Husson University next year and play softball, still holds out hope for the Tigers despite their slow start. They showed life in a 7-3 loss to unbeaten Oceanside recently and are learning as they go.

“They’re just learning the pace of the game,” Brochu said of her young teammates. “I want to try and make it to the playoffs and be a surprising team.”

• • •

In addition to Madison and Telstar, Hall-Dale is also among the favorites in the Mountain Valley Conference this spring. The Bulldogs were 3-1 entering Thursday’s game against Lisbon and have a showdown today at Telstar.

Senior Becca Ackerson will be on the mound for the Bulldogs and so far has pitched extremely well, spinning a no-hitter and two one-hitters, one of those a 1-0 loss to Oak Hill. Last year, Ackerson split pitching duties and went 6-1. This year, she’s averaging 10 strikeouts a game and allowed just five hits over her first four games.

“She’s improved the most in her location and mixing up her pitches,” Hall-Dale coach Steve Acedo said.

The Bulldogs defense features two freshmen on the left side of the infield in shortstop Grace Begin and third baseman Isabella Marino while sophomore Jill Whynot plays second. So far they’ve played well but will be put to the test against a Telstar team that likes to play small ball.

“The last couple of times we’ve played them they’ve tried to execute the bunt,” Acedo said.

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