Hall-Dale got the celebration and the hardware last spring. And while it’s a new year with new prospects, the rest of the coaches know that, when it comes to talking favorites, the Bulldogs are still a good place to start.

Everyone is still chasing Hall-Dale, Lisbon, and St. Dom’s in Class C South,” Monmouth coach Eric Palleschi said.

Oak Hill coach Chad Stowell included Mountain Valley in the list of both C South and Mountain Valley Conference favorites.

“It’s kind of the same as it was last year,” he said. “It’s a Class C-driven league, but it’s pretty competitive.”

It’s easy to see why Hall-Dale is regarded as the team to beat in the MVC once again. The Bulldogs return almost all of what was a lethal lineup, with the biggest bats belonging to Austin Stebbins, the prototypical leadoff hitter, and cleanup hitter Akira Warren, one of the hardest outs in the conference since his freshman year.

Eight of nine hitters in the lineup are back, as well as the entire outfield and middle infield, and coach Bob Sinclair said his team is poised for more success.

With a core group returning from last year’s state championship game, (we’re looking) to contend for the Gold Glove once again,” he said.

The question mark is pitching, as Hall-Dale lost its top two starters, but Warren could slide in as the new No. 1.

The team will not have the depth or experience off the bench from past years,” Sinclair said, “but as long as the team can stay healthy, (we) look forward to competing for a high seed entering the playoffs.”

David Theriault is the new coach at Winthrop, and he takes over a team that was one of the best in the MVC last year and is eager to return to that form again this year. Center fielder Jackson Ladd and catcher Maguire Anuszewski are the senior leaders, but Ryan Baird and Colby Emery are also back after starting last year.

I’ve got a lot of versatile athletes that can play several different positions,” Theriault said. “Where do you put them when you fill out a lineup? That’s going to be a challenge.”

One of the MVC’s more consistent programs, Monmouth figures to be a contender again. The Mustangs graduated their best players, but MVC All-Star honorable mentions Colby Armstrong and Trevor Flanagan are back to lead the team, and Palleschi has a knack for molding his team into a winner by season’s end.

We are going to need to take advantage of all the chances we can to steal a game or two,” he said. “We are going to need to get on base and play great defense. Our pitchers are not going to strike out double digits, so we need to play defense and make the plays in the field.”

Bridgeway, the combined Madison and Carrabec team, has a new coach in Peter Kirby. A longtime assistant coach at Thomas College and American Legion coach in Skowhegan and Madison, Kirby takes over a team that graduated some top talent, including Mountain Valley Conference 2018 Player of the Year Evan Bess, who is now on the roster at the University of Maine.

“Those guys are hard to replace, but we have young guys who are going to step in,” Kirby said.

Senior Eric Wescott will be the Bandits catcher and also will see time on the mound. One of the top players in the conference, Wescott is a versatile leader, Kirby said.

Lucas Murray and Bryce Willette will pitch for Bridgeway, along with senior Justyn Stinson, who returns to the team after a couple season away.

Oak Hill missed the Class B postseason last year at 6-10, but the Raiders return their top four arms and bats in Reid Cote, Gavin Rawstron, Caleb Valliere and Casey Dion. Caleb Treadwell is a top-of-the-lineup bat as well, and Stowell has a hunch the experience this time could translate into results.

We’re going to have to play good baseball against good teams,” he said. “The last two years we’ve done a good job of beating the teams we should beat. I think the time has come to start playing consistently against teams at the top of the conference.”

Mt. Abram may have been one of the surprises of the MVC last season. The Roadrunners qualified for the playoffs last season with six wins to snap a long postseason drought. Graduation and an injury to a key returning player may make it hard for Mt. Abram to repeat last season’s success.

Catcher Luke Kearing, a second-team all-conference selection last season, suffered a knee injury in a ski racing accident this winter and may be lost for the season. With Kearing out, coach Jeff Pillsbury will have to move players around to find the right defensive combination. Junior Ethan Powell may see time behind the plate, Pillsbury said.

Nate Luce will play in the infield and pitch. A trio of sophomores: Ben DeBiase, Kenyon Pillsbury, and Hunter Warren each saw significant playing time as freshmen last season and will look to improve.

“They’re all a little stronger now,” Pillsbury said,

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Austin Stebbins, Hall-Dale: Senior and all-MVC pick is both an excellent leadoff hitter and a smooth center fielder.

Akira Warren, Hall-Dale: Junior brings his big bat back to the defending champs, and could step in as staff ace.

Jackson Ladd, Winthrop: Senior center fielder brings high energy and a dangerous bat to the Ramblers.

Eric Wescott, Bridgeway: A senior catcher who will also pitch, one of the top athletes in the conference.

Reid Cote, Oak Hill: Left-hander returns to Raiders’ staff after leading team in starts the last two seasons.

 

GAMES TO WATCH:

April 26: Monmouth at Hall-Dale

May 3: Hall-Dale at Winthrop

May 6: Winthrop at Monmouth

May 13: Bridgeway at Oak Hill

May 29: Hall-Dale at Lisbon

PREDICTED CHAMP: Hall-Dale


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