Mt. Blue High School’s softball team entered the week having lost three straight games after opening the season with a win at Camden Hills.

Like most teams in the area with the late winter and soggy start to the spring, the Cougars hadn’t been outside prior to playing their first game of the year on April 19. Unlike most teams, Mt. Blue had to wait until last weekend for its first outdoor practice.

It’s made for a difficult early season for the team from deep in the snowbelt of central Maine, but head coach Ron Smith’s team could look much different in the second half of the year.

“It’s pretty hard to simulate in a gym what happens in a game,” Smith said.

The slow start to the year has also been compounded by trying to define a true No. 1 pitcher on the staff. A pair of sophomores — Adelle Foss and Ellie DeCarolis — and freshman Madisyn Smith have been dividing up the innings in games thus far.

“We’ll keep looking at it as the pitchers separate themselves,” Coach Smith said. “I think as we get to the second half of the season, we’d like to have someone who can go five or six innings and then maybe someone in a closer-type role. Maybe we won’t need that if we get someone to take charge. You’ve got to see how it plays itself out and see who does rise.”

With the way Mt. Blue has shown ability to swing the bats and stay aggressive at the plate (averaging more than three runs per game), the Cougars could be a team others aren’t looking forward playing a second time around.

“We don’t strike out a lot. We are aggressive and make contact. So far, we’ve been hitting it right to people on a lot of occasions,” Smith said. “There again, it’s I think a lot of that is outdoor experience, too, to be honest.”

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Erskine has a couple of things going for it right now, but it’s that third phase of the game that the Eagles are trying to shore up.

A nine-inning loss to Maranacook featured both ends of the spectrum on defensive play. The team’s defense was as good as anybody’s to get out of an eighth-inning jam but then struggled in a four-error ninth that ultimately cost it the game.

“We have flashes of great stuff, it’s just when you compound errors that it gets you,” Erskine coach Holly Tripp said. “It’s been a little up and down. We’ve had completely clean games (defensively), and (Wednesday) was a longer game, so we had more chances to have bad innings.

“This is us. We’re getting better as time goes.”

As the defense matures, the Eagles have produced runs (34 in five games) and received outstanding pitching from Kayla Hodgkins. The pitching and timely hitting have been able to keep Erskine in games and in the thick of the playoff hunt with a 2-3 record.

“We have great pitching,” Tripp said. “Kayla is phenomenal. We’ve just got to stay clean (defensively) all the way through.”

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Winslow appears to be on track toward another appearance in the Class B North regional finals. The Black Raiders entered Thursday with a 3-0 record.

Junior Broghan Gagnon’s no-hitter against Nokomis last week showed that Winslow can move on from Hillary Libby, who graduated last spring.

“Hillary was throwing in the mid-50s and she was a strikeout pitcher, but we knew Broghan could throw strikes, too,” Winslow coach Steve Bodge said. “She’s been doing it since she was knee-high to a grasshopper.”

Having a pitcher who can throw to contact and keeps the defense more involved can benefit a team. That’s what’s happened with the Black Raiders, Bodge said.

“I guess what happens is when you have a pitcher all the way up through (the youth and high school levels) that throws strikes, then the defense plays defense,” Bodge said. “It was my job to try to get kids in the right positions, because the ball’s going to get hit at them. We just need to make the plays.”

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The Maine Principals’ Association recommends the use of facemasks in its softball bulletin for pitchers and infielders. This rule is not yet mandatory although the recommendation sounds like a first step.

Many infielders and nearly all pitchers are wearing the protective masks. Monmouth co-coach Dave Kaplan requires his pitchers and corner infielders to wear face masks, a lesson he nearly learned the hard way.

“Three years ago Kylie Kemp was playing third base and (Winthrop’s) Cat Ouellette hit a ball that was just smoked at her,” Kaplan said.

Kemp made the catch, but Kaplan figured most players would have taken that ball off the face.

“I looked at (co-coach) Mike (Langlois) and said, ‘We’ve got to do something,'” Kaplan recalled.

Correspondent Gary Hawkins contributed to this report.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC