Maranacook’s Esme Jamison can’t tag Monmouth’s Abby Flanagan out at third during a game Monday in Readfield. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

READFIELD — The question going into the Class C softball season, particular in the Mountain Valley Conference, was whether Madison was still the juggernaut, or if Hall-Dale had taken its place as the team to beat.

With each game, however, Monmouth is wedging itself further and further into that conversation.

The Mustangs continued their hot start to the season, bouncing back from two deficits to beat Maranacook 11-7 Monday afternoon. That’s now a 5-1 start for Monmouth, which entered the day in second place in the Class C South Heal points.

Even coach Dave Kaplan had to admit that this kind of a start was far from a certainty.

“I did not expect 5-1, let me tell you,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of freshmen in the lineup, we’re mixing and matching. Today I played 14 kids, we’ve been playing 14. We’re trying to find corner outfielders, and everyone has contributed. So we’re just going to keep rotating until we narrow our focus for the playoffs.”

Monmouth had wins over Mountain Valley, Telstar, Buckfield and Dirigo going into Monday’s game with the Black Bears (1-1). Even the defeat, a 5-4 loss to Madison that was decided in the final inning, was encouraging.

“I’m really liking what I’m seeing,” Kaplan said.

Maranacook’s Aby Jacques holds onto second base as Monmouth’s Abby Flanagan collides with her during a game Monday in Readfield. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The Mustangs have been a contender in previous seasons, having made the C South quarterfinals in 2019, and senior shortstop Abby Flanagan said she had a feeling from the start that a good season was in store.

Without a 2020 season from which to gauge, however, she couldn’t be sure.

“I think going into the season, I kind of knew that we were going to do well,” said Flanagan, who went 1-for-2 with two runs Monday. “There are always the bumps at the beginning, but we’ve worked really hard to work those out.”

One of the biggest question marks coming in has become a strength. Pitcher Brooklyn Federico didn’t get to have her freshman year, so she went right from playing middle school softball to starting in the circle as a sophomore. With junior catcher Kate Laliberte (2-for-4, run, RBI) lending a helping hand behind the plate, however, Federico has looked right at home.

She allowed five hits while striking out five in the victory.

“I feel (pressure) a little bit, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” she said. “I’m good with handling the pressure a little bit, and I think the older girls are good at coming over to me and helping me and telling me ‘It’s OK, we’re going to be OK.'”

Monmouth had chances to show that resilience, as Maranacook responded to 2-0 and 5-3 deficits, taking a 6-5 lead into the top of the fifth with a rally keyed by a Grace Levesque RBI triple. The Mustangs quickly answered, however, scoring four runs in the frame. Emma Johnson doubled and scored on a Federico sacrifice fly, and Brook Rooney’s two-run single gave Monmouth the lead for good.

Maranacook’s Allie Labelle slides under Monmouth’s Emma Johnson during a game Monday in Readfield. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The offensive tenacity was a theme all game. Monmouth scored in every inning but the second.

“We definitely build off of each other,” Flanagan said. “When we score in an inning, it gets the dugout fired up, it gets us fired going back (out). We try to keep a positive atmosphere.”

Shylah Woodford (RBI), Brooke Stratton, Esme Jamison, Allie Labelle (triple, RBI) and Alissa Michaud had the hits for Maranacook. Pitcher Alexis Michaud had seven strikeouts, but the Black Bears were hurt by six errors.

With a young team himself, Maranacook coach Don Beckwith said the loss stung, but that he likes how his team is going to look.

“We had no scrimmages, they’ve had four, so they’re eight games ahead of us,” he said. “We’re going to score runs. We are. We didn’t hit today like I thought we would. … We’re in good shape, we really are.”

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