The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A division shrunk a little this season, when Lawrence and Brewer moved to Class B due to declining enrollment. Now just 12 teams strong, the KVAC A is leaner, but the team at the top has not changed. Four-time defending state champion Bangor is still the team to beat in the region.

“It’s hard to say anybody but Bangor (is the favorite),” Messalonskee coach Ray Bernier said.

Mt. Ararat and first-year coach Brett Chase — a University of Maine at Farmington Hall of Fame member — and Oxford Hills are expected to rank among the conference’s contenders with the Rams.

Skowhegan went 6-10 last season and finished just out of the playoffs. With three of the top four pitchers returning, the Indians are primed for improvement.

“We’re throwing well,” Skowhegan coach Mike LeBlanc said. “We’ll need to manufacture runs and play solid defense.”

Colby Estes, Colby Miller and Ryan Savage will be the leaders of Skowhegan’s pitching staff. Marcus Christopher will be among Skowhegan’s top hitters, and Alex Higgins returns at second base.

Messalonskee will be one of the youngest teams in the conference. Bernier has just two players — seniors Tyler Lewis and Tyler Noonan — who have more than one season of varsity experience. There is potential with the Eagles, though, particularly on the mound. Bernier said he has 16 pitchers in the program.

“We have a lot of question marks. We’ll have to mature quickly,” Bernier said.

Noonan will lead Messalonskee’s pitching staff, while Lewis will anchor the lineup from his spot at third base. Others expected to contribute include senior outfielder Noah Tuttle and senior first baseman/pitcher Parker Poulin. Mitchell Couturier, a junior outfielder who transferred in from Richmond, could be an important newcomer.

At Mt. Blue, coach Steve Lancaster enters his second season at the helm with a focus on improving offensively. Mt. Blue hit just .198 as a team last season, and that will have to be better for the Cougars to have a shot at the playoffs.

Senior Hunter Bolduc will be a key player at shortstop and on the mound for Mt. Blue. Junior first baseman Collin Hutchins has shown a good glove and improved bat, while Caleb Young and David Quimby bring speed to the outfield. Sophomore Kyle Fox will pitch and also play the outfield. After swinging between varsity and JV last season, Noah Bell will be Mt. Blue’s catcher. There’s a lot of room for improvement, Lancaster said, but the Cougars are ahead of where they were in preseason 2017.

“Our rate of development is much faster now than previous years. These guys are motivated to improve and show up every day looking to learn and iron out their mistakes,” Lancaster said.

On paper, Cony should be in for a rough spring. The Rams return only two seniors (Mike Levesque and Tyler Dostie) from a team that hit just .220 and won just four games, and only Mitch MacFarland returns with any varsity pitching experience — and only six innings at that.

“We’ll be inexperienced, to say the least,” coach Don Plourde said.

Plourde, however, likes his team’s chances of finding a winning mix in the large freshman class. Cony had some promising pitchers fed in by the Junior Legion and Babe Ruth teams, and Kyle Douin and Riley Geyer are among the freshmen who could make a positive impact in the early going.

“We have some really good young arms,” Plourde said. “I think we can really compete with teams.”

Even if the pitching clicks, Cony will need to find more offense than it mustered last year. The Rams don’t need much, just enough — with solid defense — to win those 3-2 games Plourde likes to play.

“We need to be able to make plays and shorten the game,” he said. “Don’t give any extra outs, and I say, be great at playing catch. The teams that make the least amount of mistakes end up winning games.”

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