After making it to four of the last five Class C state championship games, winning two of them, the Madison softball team is reloaded for another run at the title this season.

The Bulldogs lost only two seniors to graduation and have a group eager to make one final run toward a championship together.

Madison coach Chris LeBlanc has challenged his veteran team, which features seven seniors and four juniors.

“The biggest thing is that I’ve challenged the seniors,” LeBlanc said. “I asked them, ‘Are you going to be complacent?’ They’ve been to state championships, and coupled with what they’ve done in soccer and in basketball, they’ve accomplished a lot together.”

The Bulldogs are led by senior catcher Ashley Emery, who has been written in at the top of LeBlanc’s lineup card since her freshman season. She led the team in extra-base hits a year ago, batting over .500 and stealing 20 bases.

Sydney LeBlanc is a three-year starter in center field for the Bulldogs, and most of the batting order is set. A new wrinkle could see the Bulldogs not necessarily locked into the same defensive positioning on a game-to-game basis with a roster that provides some flexibility.

The biggest question mark comes in the pitching circle. Madeline Wood graduated, leaving sophomore Lauria LeBlanc and senior Whitney Bess — an all-conference third baseman — to fill the void.

“This is probably a year where some individual accolades might not be there,” Chris LeBlanc said. “Every game could be different for us.”

Monmouth and Winthrop have challenged the Bulldogs in the Mountain Valley Conference during the last couple of years, and both should be in position to do it again.

The Mustangs return another talented group and the Ramblers are coming off a surprise run, that culminated with a trip to the Class C South finals.

Winthrop has made steady progress under fourth-year coach Chuck Gurney and will look to go a step further this season. The Ramblers fell to powerhouse Madison in the C South final last season.

Gurney paraphrased former professional wrestler Ric Flair when talking about the getting past Madison.

“To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man,” he said.

The Ramblers may do that. They return 10 players, including a half dozen starters led by junior pitcher Layne Audet. The infield is solid led by shortstop Kate Perkins and second baseman Moriah Hajduk. All are juniors and part of a group of six that has started since their freshman season. Hanna Caprara takes over as catcher.

“We’re looking to hit and run and steal a lot more,” Gurney said.

Monmouth went 12-4 last season and has been near the top of the MVC for a while. The Mustangs may be there again, but the task was made more difficult when two senior veterans decided not to play this year.

“We’re going to be in most games because we have solid pitching and catching,” co-coach Dave Kaplan said. “It will take us a while to come along. It’s going to be midseason before we jell.”

Senior Emily Chasse returns to the circle and will throw to junior Abby Ferland, one of the team’s top hitters. Also back are Hailey Langlois, Mariah Herr, Emily Kaplan and Deanna Bowen. The Mustangs have to replace the left side of their infield, which will be a work in progress.

“We’re going to hit,” Kaplan said. “The key will be tightening up the defense.”

Carrabec, under first-year head coach Heath Cowan, also expects big things this year. Given that the Cobras have the reigning MVC Player of the Year in senior catcher Bailey Dunphy, it’s not a stretch to believe Carrabec can do much more than simply make the tournament.

Dunphy batted well over .700 and slugged over 1.300 a year in 2017, one of four returning Cobras to hit over .350 last season. Toss in senior pitcher Samantha LeBeau, and the Cobras have arguably the best battery in the region.

“Everything starts with LeBeau and Dunphy,” Cowan said.

Hall-Dale won a playoff prelim last year and returns most of the players from that team. Junior Kailey Roberts is a control pitcher whom coach Steve Acedo said has picked up some speed. Defense will be one of the Bulldogs’ strengths since most of the infield and outfield returns intact. Acedo may have to replace catcher Alyssa Bonenfant, who is currently injured and may not return to the lineup. Freshman Riley Johnson is the leading candidate.

“I think we’ll be good at the plate,” said Acedo, citing Jill Whynot, Amanda Benner, Isabella Marino and Grace Begin as some of the team’s top sticks. “I think we should be stronger than last year.”

Oak Hill has finished near the top of Class B South the past couple of seasons despite playing a predominantly Class C schedule in the MVC. That may be the case again this year as the Raiders return pitcher Sadie Waterman and one of the top players in the MVC in junior catcher-infielder Abby Nadeau.

Julia Ahlberg batted over .500 for the Raiders a year ago and returns, along with Kiera Young, Mahala Smith and Miranda Kramer. Madison, Oak Hill coach Allyson Collins said, remains the team to beat in the conference.

“You always kind of compare yourself to them,” she said. “I definitely feel like we can play with them.”

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