It is the largest region in the state, by a landslide, outsized only by the aspirations of those teams at the top.

Class B North features a 21-team field this season, including new additions in Lawrence and Brewer, former Class A mainstays. Of those 21 teams, almost every Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference member can make a strong case as playoff candidates, with some thinking a trip to the regional finals are within their respective grasps.

At the top, Gardiner, Lawrence and Winslow could be playing deep into June. The Tigers went 15-1 last season and return top hurler Jillian Bisson. The Bulldogs have a lineup that will rival any from top to bottom after earning a spot in the A North semis last spring, and the Black Raiders return their entire starting lineup intact from a team that reached the regional quarterfinals.

Gardiner finished first in Class B North a year ago but was upset in the first round of the playoffs when Bisson was forced to sit out the playoff opener because she was ejected in the regular-season finale. Bisson is back, which should make the Tigers a contender again. So are most of her teammates, including seniors Logan Granholm, Meaghan Meehan and Brooke Somes. Sophomores Jaz Clark and Haley Brann are among returning starters and two of the team’s better hitters.

“We might be going back to speed,” coach Don Brochu said of his offensive strategy this season.

Brochu says defense will be a team strength and added the incoming freshmen, “have played a lot of ball.”

Lawrence lost Lily Herrin to graduation after her right arm carried the Bulldogs deep into the postseason, but catcher Haley Holt is back in the heart of a lineup that will not struggle to score runs. Holt is one of four core seniors, including third baseman Molly Folsom, comprising an athletic group for Lawrence.

“Give me 10 athletes, and I’ve got a chance to build a softball team,” veteran coach Joey Marcoux said.

Winslow will have Broghan Gagnon back in the circle, catcher Cassie Demers behind the plate and Sarah Guimond at shortstop. And those three are surrounded by six returning starters.

“We’re scheduled to play the best of the KVAC B and a crossover with Messalonksee,” Winslow coach Steve Bodge said. “We have a very tough schedule lined up, which should prepare us well for the postseason. I think come June we will be ready to go after it.”

Erskine lost a series of one-run games last season that kept them out of the playoffs. The Eagles return six players, led by junior pitcher Kayla Hodgkins.

“She’s throwing really hard,” coach Holly Tripp said. “She works all the time in the offseason.”

Hodgkins and shortstop Lydia Boucher lead the offense while sophomore Makenzie Strout will fill a graduation void at catcher.

“I feel better going into this season than I have in awhile,” Tripp said.

Mount View, MCI and Waterville are all on the cusp of making playoff appearances. The Huskies and Purple Panthers had shots at tournament berths in the final week of the regular season last spring.

All three of their coaches point to defensive fundamentals as key to taking the next step this season.

Waterville lost Madison Clowes to graduation but has junior Molly Wasilewski primed as her replacement in the circle. With senior catcher Coby Dangler an experienced receiver, the hope is that the Purple Panthers won’t miss a beat after getting a taste of meaningful late-season softball for the first time in years.

“I want to see us turn some heads,” second-year Waterville coach Tom Toner said. “I think we’ve still got something to prove. We made a big dent last year, and we’re on the uphill swing this year. I’m really looking forward to seeing these guys put their hard work to the test.”

Maranacook, which will try and make the Class C South tournament, turned in a strong season at 10-6 a year ago but graduated five players, including four-year starting pitcher Paige Costa. Her younger sister, freshman Natalie Costa, will take over in the circle.

“She looks pretty strong,” co-coach Jeannine Paradis said. “We have some decent defense that will surround her.”

Senior Erin Bonenfant returns to catch and is one of the team’s top hitters along with Kalee Jones, Brooke Stratton and Abagail Jacques.

“We might make mistakes but we have to limit those mistakes,” Paradis said.

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