Madison’s Lauria LeBlanc, right center, and teammate Brooke McKenney, left center, congratulate each other after completing an out against Hall-Dale on Wednesday in Madison. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

MADISON — There are shelf lives to sports dynasties, especially in high school. You know no matter how much success you enjoy, none of those players will be on the team longer than four years. A large senior class can help a team do great things, but when they’re gone, they’re gone.

Last year, the Madison Area Memorial High School softball team went 20-0 to win the Class C state title. Seven seniors contributed to that undefeated Bulldogs run. Seventy-eight percent of the lineup needed to be replaced in 2019, so coach Chris LeBlanc went young, throwing a trio of freshmen into the lineup. With Landyn Landry at shortstop, Lillian Levesque at second base, and now catching, and Brook McKenney at first base and pitching, the Bulldogs were ready for a few growing pains.

Hall-Dale’s Iris Ireland can’t get the tag at home on Madison’s Landyn Landry when the ball gets loose during a Mountain Valley Conference game Tuesday in Farmingdale. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

It’s safe to say, the growing pains have long subsided. With those three freshmen playing key roles, the Bulldogs (18-1) are in the Class C state championship game for the fourth straight season and sixth time in seven years. They will face Dexter (14-5) at Brewer High School at noon Saturday.

“I just kind of expected to contribute as much as I could, I guess. I wanted to show people what I could do,” Landry said.

Each of the three has contributed. McKenney has a .426 batting average with 16 runs batted in and 18 runs scored, and earned first team all-Mountain Valley Conference honors. As the Bulldogs’ leadoff hitter, Landry boasts a .403 average, a .481 on base percentage, and has scored 23 runs. Levesque hits .375 with 14 runs scored and 18 driven in. Both Landry and Levesque were named second team all-conference.

“They have contributed a lot. When me, Emily (Edgerly) and Katie (Worthen) were freshmen, we contributed, but these three freshmen definitely stepped up,” said junior pitcher Lauria LeBlanc, one of the few returning players with significant varsity game experience.

Added senior outfielder Jennifer Dean: “We had seven seniors and they’re all gone. I was on the varsity team last year, but I wasn’t that much of a player. I ran here or there. I had to step up a lot this year. Nothing good is easy.”

Coach LeBlanc knew he had a lot of talent to replace, but he also knew what was coming up from the junior high.

“We had some knowledge of what they could do. Dan (McKenney, an assistant coach) was the junior high coach last year,” Coach LeBlanc said. “We didn’t put a lot of pressure on them.”

By midseason, the top of Madison’s lineup was Landry leading off, Levesque second, and McKenney third. Landry’s speed made her an ideal leadoff hitter,Coach  LeBlanc said, and Levesque can bunt or drive the ball, skills needed in the two hole. McKenney has some pop, with a home run and six doubles this season. Shortly after, Levesque made a position change, moving from second base to catcher.

Madison runner Lillian Levesque (24) slides safely into third base before Maranacook’s Evelyn St. Germain can get the ball during a Class C South semifinal game Saturday afternoon in Madison. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“Taking this big role, it kind of made me nervous,” Levesque said. “Not so much pressure, where I’m overwhelmed, but pressure behind the plate. I get nervous sometimes.”

Coach LeBlanc knew if the long term planned called for Levesque as the varsity catcher, the move should be made sooner rather than later.

“The wild card was Lillian,” he said. “We said, ‘If we’re going to do this thing, we’re going to do it.'”

Coach LeBlanc also knew he had to find McKenney time in the circle. While the Bulldogs returned Lauria, a top-flight lefty, Coach LeBlanc knew mixing McKenney in would make the team better. He just had to pick his spots and find the innings.

McKenney has pitched in 17 games, including three starts, with a 6-0 record and staggeringly low 0.432 earned run average. In 48 2/3 innings, McKenney has 90 strikeouts.

“When do we do it? Don’t wait until they get a runner or two or get the bases loaded. The maturity of Lauria to accept that… Last year, I’m not sure she would like that very much. This year, because of that maturity and truly being a team player, she’s probably Brooke’s biggest fan,” Coach LeBlanc said.

In Wednesday’s nine-inning, 4-3 win over Sacopee Valley in the regional championship game, McKenney threw four innings of near dominant relief of Lauria LeBlanc, allowing one hit while striking out seven.

“I knew I had to focus on the pitch, because I knew my team had my back behind me. Even if they hit it, I know they’ll make the plays behind me,” McKenney said.

Dean has been impressed with each of her young first-year teammates.

“Levesque, from never playing a varsity game before and now she’s our starting catcher? That’s insane. Landry, she seems to jell really well with us. She’s hitting, she’s doing all the right things at shortstop. She’s a total key factor,” Dean said. “That (McKenney) can pitch the way she does, and she’s a young freshman, too. I think she’s going to be a monster in the future. She’s going to keep getting better and better.”

Landry said she feels like a better player than she was when practices began in March in the gym.

“I definitely have more confidence stepping up to the plate, especially in the field too. I feel more confident with my throw,” Landry said. “During preseason I got really nervous.”

Support from the upperclassmen has been integral to the newcomers success, McKenney said.

“We always have to boost each other up. It’s really nice to be so close as a team in general… It’s kind of an easy transition since we’ve been together,” McKenney said.

There’s pressure that comes with joining a succesful program like Madison softball, McKenney said, but the pressure is to reach what she considers achievable goals.

“I do set high goals for myself. Getting that golden glove (the state championship trophy), that’s a goal we all set for ourselves,” McKenney said.

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