FARMINGDALE — Steve Acedo joked during the preseason that he didn’t mind his team being the trendy league-wide sleeper pick in an informal poll of Mountain Valley Conference coaches late last winter.

But he also didn’t hesitate to add that his Bulldogs might not be sleepers for long.

Hall-Dale nearly doubled its win total from 2018 this season and advanced all the way to the regional semifinals after earning the No. 2 spot in Class C South. For Acedo’s efforts in leading the Bulldogs, he’s been selected as the Kennebec Journal Softball Coach of the Year.

“I was pretty surprised,” Acedo said of his team’s season. “I didn’t think we were going to be down there in the seven or eight spot (in the Heal points), but I figured we’d probably end up in the four-to-six range.

“I have to say I was impressed, especially with the younger kids with how they came along really quick. They bonded in with the older kids, and that was the biggest thing that helped us. I think that’s what put us over the top, and why we finished better than what was anticipated.”

Hall-Dale (14-4) recovered nicely from an eight-win season and a first-round playoff exit in 2018, and did so with a blend of veterans and fresh faces. For every senior like Alisa Bonenfant, Grace Begin or Isabella Marino, there was a freshman starter like Emma Soule, Iris Ireland or Lilly Platt.

And in the center of it all was a sophomore in pitcher Sarah Benner, who inherited the role as a freshman when injuries depleted some of the Bulldogs’ depth. Benner had never been a pitcher prior, and certainly Acedo didn’t envision that as her future within his program.

But after an injury-ravaged 2018, Acedo decided that 2019 needed a slightly different attitude.

“You’ve got to let them be themselves and have them not be afraid to fail,” said Acedo, who has spent five seasons at the helm. “That’s the biggest thing. It works for us, or is starting to work better for us. You have to give them a little bit of leeway to have the confidence in themselves.”

That confidence took shape during a midseason run in which the team saw what it was capable of.

Down 4-2 in the late innings against Lisbon, Hall-Dale rallied for 11 runs in the inning to win going away, 19-4. Against Oak Hill, the Bulldogs trailed by three going into the bottom of the seventh before scoring four times for a 10-9 walk-off win. They beat Class B playoff team Spruce Mountain, erasing a 4-3 deficit with three runs in the final two innings for a 6-4 victory.

Where just a season before the team would let those games slip away, this time around they were convinced that they had more than enough to win.

“In the past they’ve had the mentality that something was going to happen and the other team would find a way to beat us,” Acedo said. “That’s what we’d been waiting to get for the last four years — the mentality that we were going to win and could beat anybody.

“When you’ve got a group of kids like that, it makes the coaching part of it pretty easy.”

Acedo enjoyed the ride from start to finish, even though it ended with a loss to Sacopee Valley in the regional semifinals.

“I had a blast,” Acedo said. “It was a good season for the seniors to go out on, and it was a great season for the freshmen to step in and see what it will be like going forward.”

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