The only thing slowing the Madison Area Memorial High School softball team these days is the weather.

The Bulldogs, in defense of their Class C state title from a year ago, are off to a 7-0 start and sit second in the Class C South Heal point standings. But Madison has also had a number of games postponed and until a late-inning win over Winthrop on Wednesday, the Bulldogs hadn’t played in seven days.

“It certainly impacts things,” Madison coach Chris LeBlanc said of the disjointed early season schedule. “We’re making some mistakes and the biggest thing is we’re not as mentally prepared and focused as we need to be. In a normal season, you don’t have time to not be thinking about it. You play, you practice and, boom, you’re playing the next day. You play Monday, practice a little bit, and play again Wednesday.”

LeBlanc has made a point to vary the daily practice routines to help break up the rut.

Slated to meet up with No. 3 Telstar on Thursday, Madison has had to get creative with its scheduling. On May 4, the Bulldogs played a doubleheader, scoring 15 runs in each game in a sweep of Mountain Valley and Hall-Dale. They’ll play another such doubleheader on Friday, entertaining a makeup game against Class B Oak Hill and following that with a meeting with Boothbay.

“For us, a lot of these girls have been in situations in the summertime in tournaments, where you’re going to play four, five, seven or eight games in a couple of days,” LeBlanc said. “With us not having pitch counts the way baseball does, it’s not as big of a deal. To me, with the way our league is, it’s either going to be a close competitive game that’s quick or it’s going to be a five-inning game. That (doubleheader) just frees up another date.”

The schedule will get tougher for Madison, even beyond the compacted scheduling. The Bulldogs have two meetings left against No. 1 Monmouth, as well as games against Lisbon, Dirigo and Telstar.

“We’ve got a stretch coming up that should be pretty good,” LeBlanc said. “We’re going to see if we can be mentally prepared for those big games. It starts (Friday) with Oak Hill. We’re going to see how mature we are.

“I’m old school. If we have to play a game, I don’t care where we play. Is playing three (in a day) a stretch, yes. But I’d still rather play the games. Our expectation is (the state championship game) June 17. Only eight teams will be left, and we want to be one of them.”

• • •

It wasn’t so long ago that if your softball team had a pitcher who worked on her craft in the offseason, it enjoyed a competitive advantage.

These days, year-round preparation is virtually a must.

Most of the teams in central Maine have competent pitchers who use a variety of pitches, can spot the ball effectively and throw hard. It’s rare to see a so-called lollipopper lob the ball over the plate and then rely on her defense.

“There’s not that much of a variety,” Erskine coach Holly Tripp said. “In general, there’s much better pitching.”

Erskine has its own in sophomore Kayla Hodgkins, who struck out 11 batters Tuesday in a win over Spruce Mountain. Her work with a pitching coach in the offseason has shown up so far.

“She’s really thinking about where she wants to put (the ball),” Tripp said. “She’s hitting her spots.”

Sophomores Jillian Bisson of Gardiner, Emily Chasse of Monmouth and Layne Audet of Winthrop have all enjoyed similar success this spring after putting in hours of work after the end of last season.

Richmond senior Meranda Martin has been working with pitching coaches since middle school and is constantly developing her repertoire.

“In the summer I throw all of my pitches,” Martin said. “I have six different ones and I keep them all in the mix.”

Martin plays on a summer league team, works out each Sunday in the offseason while also pitching two or three a times a week. That may increase being that her grandfather has opened an indoor facility — MPN Sports and Fitness — in Richmond..

She sometimes divides pitching duties with her teammates but Martin has been on the mound for three of the team’s state championship wins and most of their 76 straight victories.

Lawrence senior Lilly Herrin has pitched all four years for the Bulldogs and has shown steady improvement according to coach Joey Marcoux. Wednesday, she allowed four hits and fanned nine in a 4-2 win against Cony. Like her counterparts, Herrin has put in a lot of extra work.

“I play on an 18U summer team,” Herrin said. “We play year-round. We play in the dome in Topsham, We play doubleheaders on Saturdays in the winter, we practice in the fall. We’re going to start right up again in a couple of weeks. Then we play in the summer tournaments. My pitching coach, Bethany Fisher, she helps me out too in the gym.”

• • •

So far, the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A season is playing out almost exactly the way most coaches envisioned.

An unbeaten Bangor team aside, nobody has been able to run away from the pack.

On Wednesday, Messalonskee (3-5) defeated previously unbeaten Edward Little — moving the Eagles, who have won three of their last five, temporarily up to fourth in the Class A North Heal point standings.

Reigning regional champion Skowhegan (5-2) sits fifth after a loss to Brewer snapped a three-game winning streak, while Lawrence (3-5) is ninth after ending its three-game losing streak with a win over Cony.

Correspondent Gary Hawkins contributed to this report.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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