There are 14 spots up for grabs in the Class B North playoffs, and just which Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference teams earn them could well come down to success against Heal point-rich Class A opponents.

Erskine Academy, for example, has three games against Class A teams Edward Little, Oxford Hills and Cony. Lawrence will face Lewiston, Skowhegan, Messalonskee and Mt. Blue. Mount View, by contrast, will play just Class B teams.

With seven regular starters returning, Waterville should contend against any team it plays, regardless of class. The Purple Panthers return three players — second baseman Kai Rabideau, center fielder/pitcher Kody Vallee, and shortstop/pitcher David Barre — who hit around .400 last season.

“We’re very fortunate to have a bunch of our lineup back,” Waterville coach Russell Beckwith said. “We’re strong up the middle.”

Junior catcher Dan Gaunce is back, with Barre, Vallee and Cam Dennis the top pitchers. Beckwith said pitching and defense will carry the club, and the Panthers will look to string together runs.

Maranacook, one of the best teams in the KVAC last year, should again be a daunting opponent. The Black Bears have a big hole to fill at the top of the rotation with the departure of workhorse Dan Garand, but senior lefty Jay Lauter appears ready to take on the responsibility. Maranacook gets plenty of the offensive firepower back from a team that reached the Class C final.

“Expectations are high,” said coach Eric Brown, whose team returns big bats in Mitch Root, Duncan Rogers, Aric Belanger and Jarred Schmidt. “(The) key to the season is how well pitchers do after losing Garand.”

Gardiner is hoping to repeat last spring as well. The Tigers went 12-4 during the regular season, but lost eight seniors and will lean on senior shortstop and pitcher Casey Bourque and sophomore infielder and pitcher Isaac Gammon to lead the way.

The Tigers will rely on the fundamentals — small ball, defense and control on the mound — to win games.

We do not feel like it’s a rebuilding season,” coach Charlie Lawrence said. “We just feel like we’re rebuilding with a few young faces and a few new names. We’re going to try to pick up right where we left off last year.”

After years of struggling, Maine Central Institute got hot last season and made a run to the playoffs. The Huskies lost KVAC B Player of the Year Pedro Matos to graduation. Second baseman Hayden Caldwell and shortstop TJ Stewart will lead what could be a strong defense. Dom Wilson and Owen Williams will pace the offense. Seven starters return to MCI’s lineup, all in their third or fourth season as starters. Coach Eric Day called this the deepest team he’s had at MCI.

Now in its second year in Class B, Lawrence looks to improve after going 5-11 last season.

“Most of them played summer ball. So far, we’ve had good enthusiasm,” Lawrence coach Rusty Mercier said.

Nick Robertson, Mackenzie Steeves, and Jacob Rider return as varsity pitchers for the Bulldogs. Rider, who will play first base when not pitching, is the top returning hitter and will likely bat third in Lawrence’s order. Speed will be a key to Lawrence success, Mercier said. A question mark entering the season is defense. The Bulldogs may move players around early to find the right spots.

Erskine is looking for a return to form under new coach Scott Ballard. After reaching the B North final in 2017, the Eagles missed the playoffs last spring at 4-12, but a pitching staff led by junior Nick Howard and a lineup paced by Nick Barber and Joe Clark should have Erskine back to the middle of the Class B playoff chase.

“We have a very deep pitching staff,” Ballard said. “Our outfield defense … is strong and we have excellent team speed.”

Nokomis graduated a lot of talent from the team that won 25 games over the last two seasons combined. Senior Gabe Gilley is the most experienced returner and will play a number of positions. Junior Cody Marquis won three games last season and looks to move to the top of the rotation.

“He’s ready for it,” coach Scott Hartsgrove said of Marquis.

Junior third baseman Andy Hopkins suffered a concussion during the basketball season, and is unable to play. Hartsgrove hopes Hopkins will be able to rejoin the lineup around midseason.

Winslow has a new coach, Bob Chenard. The Black Raiders haven’t made the playoffs since reaching the regional championship game in 2015. With a good group of veterans and newcomers, Chenard is focusing the first year of his rebuild on the fundamentals.

“We’re working a lot on defense this year,” Chenard said. “The biggest thing we’re doing is bringing back discipline. Keep our heads in the game and take it game by game.”

Winslow has a trio of experienced pitchers in Ethan Lachance, Cam Winslow and Isaac Targett. Cody Ivey is a top offensive player for the Black Raiders.

Mount View also looks to rebound from a tough season. The main goal is to improve throughout the season, coach Dale Hustus said. Seniors Logan Curtis, Damien Doughty and Darrett Fowler, along with juniors Theo Dodge and Noah Jacobs, will serve as captains for the Mustangs.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Nick Howard, Erskine: It could be junior’s time to shine on the mound for Eagles team looking to climb back up in Class B.

Jay Lauter, Maranacook: Senior lefty and No. 2 pitcher last year gets promotion to No. 1 as Black Bears aim for return trip to C South final.

Kody Vallee, Waterville: A senior center fielder/pitcher, Vallee is one of the top players in the Panthers’ strong senior class.

Jacob Rider, Lawrence: A senior first baseman/pitcher, Rider will hit third for the Bulldogs.

Casey Bourque, Gardiner: Senior shortstop thrived in the middle of the order last year, but Tigers will need his defensive versatility too.

 

GAMES TO WATCH

April 22: Nokomis at Lawrence

April 24: Gardiner at Erskine

April 26: Gardiner at Waterville

May 10: Erskine at Waterville

May 22: Waterville at Maranacook

 

PREDICTED CHAMP: Brewer


Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.