First-year Carrabec softball coach Heath Cowan wasn’t sure what to expect when he took over the team this year.

He heard he had a good player in senior catcher Bailey Dunphy but had yet to see her play. Nine games into the season Cowan knows what he and the Cobras have in Dunphy.

“She’s clearly one of the best softball players I’ve ever seen play,” Cowan said. “And that goes even to (Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference) last year. She’s so strong, she’s so smart. She’s got a cannon for an arm. She can play anywhere she wants to.”

Cowan has coached some good athletes in basketball at Skowhegan and golf at Madison, and last year was an assistant at Winslow. The best share some traits beyond athletic ability alone.

“She can do a lot of different things for us,” he said. “And she’s a great teammate, more important than all that stuff. She’s always constantly helping her teammates, cheering them on. And she never lets her head hang at all. A hitter like that, she gets walked and walked and walked and she never gets frustrated.”

Because she runs, throws and hits so well, Dunphy can play anywhere on the field, but catching is what she enjoys most.

“I like the leadership role,” she said. “You can be a leader anywhere but it just seems more apparent for catchers.”

Dunphy has already agreed to play at Thomas College next year, where she figures to be a four-year mainstay.

“I looked at a lot of colleges,” she said. “I just really said I wanted to be closer to home and I really love Thomas. I love the team, the coach, I love everything about it.”

Dunphy and her teammates still have a season to contend with. The Cobras fell to 6-3 in Mountain Valley Conference play with a 6-2 loss to Monmouth on Wednesday. Dunphy hits leadoff in the lineup and didn’t have a particularly good day — she popped up trying to bunt and was thrown out on the bases twice.

She has a rare combination of speed and power that allows her to bunt.

“It’s all depending on where they’re playing,” she said. “If they’re back I’m going to bunt, if they’re up I’ll hit away.”

Dunphy’s not bad when she swings away. Last year she batted .759 with five homers. She already has five homers this season despite being walked intentionally “more than I thought.”

Monmouth coach Dave Kaplan ordered her intentionally walked Wednesday and said, “I guess you’re used to that,” when she trotted to first base. Then she rounded first and headed for second where she was narrowly thrown out.

“That’s probably not good timing on that,” Cowan said, “but we’ve done that three or four times this year.”

Then there’s the question of playing cross-river rival Madison, one of the state’s powerhouse teams in Class C. Carrabec hasn’t beaten the Bulldogs in Dunphy’s four years, including a 9-5 decision last week. Should they meet again it will be in the playoffs.

“It makes us want to play better,” Dunphy said of the rivalry. “Next time we see them we’re going to be gunning for them.”

• • •

Madison survived its closest call of the season Wednesday when it squeaked by visiting Lisbon 7-6. The Bulldogs spotted Lisbon an early run but came back with five in the bottom of the first.

“The girls are mentally prepared once the games starts,” Madison coach Chris LeBlanc said.

The Bulldogs have won two of the last four Class C state championships and return a veteran team that finished runner-up a year ago. It’s an all-senior infield with the exception of sophomore pitcher Lauria LeBlanc, the coach’s niece, but every season is different.

“We’re still trying to find this season’s identity and trying to eliminate some mistakes,” LeBlanc said.

The infield includes Ashley Emery behind the plate, Whitney Bess at third, Annie Worthen at short, Marah Hall at second and Aishah Molloy at first. Sydney LeBlanc, another senior, anchors the outfield in center. Coach LeBlanc has no qualms about moving players around and did that Wednesday in an effort to shake things up.

“We try to get kids to play all positions,” he said.

Lauria LeBlanc will be a key to the team’s success this season. She’s features a fastball and changeup and has three or four games with double-digit strikeouts this season.

“She’s a lefty and she can bring it,” coach LeBlanc said. “Her being the top dog is the biggest thing.”

The team’s winning tradition can sometimes put pressure on the team as well.

“It might be why they’re tight at times,” LeBlanc said. “They press to live up to past years.”

• • •

Skowhegan is halfway through its season, and much to the chagrin of the rest of Class A North, it hasn’t missed a beat in its quest for a third straight regional title.

The Indians are 8-0 and the formula for success has been a remarkably familiar one. Senior Ashley Alward and Sydney Ames, a junior, have proven a potent 1-2 pitching combination, alternating dominant starts just as they did in 2017. Skowhegan has allowed just seven runs, with opposing offenses averaging just 0.88 runs per game.

Alward threw a no-hitter in the season opener against Lewiston; on Wednesday, Ames and Alward combined to no-hit Cony. They’ve pitched three shutouts already on the year, and four other times they’ve surrendered just a single run.

On the flip side, Skowhegan’s lineup hasn’t seen any drop off. The Indians have scored 54 runs this season for an average of 6.75 runs per game.

• • •

Oak Hill, having a typically strong season at 6-1 in MVC play, faces its toughest week of the season, beginning with a trip to unbeaten Madison on Monday.

“Winners know how to win,” Oak Hill coach Allyson Collins said of Madison. “Every time you think you have them you don’t. You have to prepare for Madison a week in advance.

The Raiders also host Hall-Dale and play at Monmouth next week. So far the season has been full of pleasant surprises. Junior pitcher Sadie Waterman is batting over .500 and throwing well while Michelle Smith and Kierra Young are also swinging big bats. Junior Molly Flaherty is also contributing in the circle and at the plate.

“She really has come into her own,” said Collins, who often pitches Waterman and Flaherty in the same game. “She’s been a huge surprise.

Junior catcher Abby Nadeau is the backbone of the team, according to Collins, and figures to catch up to the way she hit a year ago, batting over .600.

• • •

Richmond saw its 88-game winning streak snapped last year in the Class D state championship game, and after graduating six starters it appears to be in a reset mode this year. The Bobcats have only played three games to date because of postponements and a lag in the schedule, which includes a number of doubleheaders, but so far so good.

“It hasn’t been easy to get into a rhythm,” coach Tony Martin acknowledged.

It helps to have senior Sydney Underhill-Tilton leading the way, though. This season she’s the team’s primary pitcher and is also hitting like she did a year ago, when she batted .630 with seven homers and 34 RBIs.

“She’s pitched very well,” Martin said, noting Underhill-Tilton has only issued one walk in two games while averaging nine strikeouts. Caitlin Kendrick has already pitched a game and Bri Lancaster also figures to see action in the circle. Those three have the most experience and will be expected to lead a young group that includes three freshmen — Bryannah Shay, Paige Lebel and Leah Wescott — starting in the infield.

“It’s a very good group of girls,” Martin said. “You can put them anywhere in the infield. They’re getting there.”

The Bobcats play doubleheaders this Saturday and next. They also play St. Dominic and Rangeley in between.

Staff writer Travis Barrett contributed to this report.

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