Skowhegan celebrates its victory over Biddeford in the Class A softball state title game. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald

Mariah Whittemore saw in the fall, as a player on the Skowhegan field hockey team, how frustrating it was to be on a talented roster and not have the chance to play for a championship.

So this spring, when Whittemore, a third baseman on the softball team, found out that that championship chance was back, she couldn’t wait to get started.

“That was huge for us,” she said. “It was a lot of motivation. We knew we were going to get that, and each day was a blessing to have. We knew that the next day it could end there, so we just played every day as we went.”

Whittemore and the rest of the River Hawks made the most of that chance, finishing the season with a state title after beating Biddeford 7-4 in the Class A championship game.

A week and a half after that victory, Whittemore, a senior, said the thrill hadn’t yet worn off.

“The emotions are still there,” she said. “I still haven’t come off that high.”

Skowhegan wasn’t alone, however, as central Maine turned in one of its best seasons in recent memory. Hall-Dale won the Class C championship, its very first, while Winslow reached the Class B championship game and Nokomis and Madison made it to the Class B North and C South finals, respectively.

It was the first time since 2017 that the area produced three state finalists, the first time since 2016 it had two champions, and the first time since 2014 that five teams reached regional finals.

The River Hawks’ run earned them their first state title since they beat Thornton Academy in 2014. Skowhegan had reached the Class A championship game and lost three times before prevailing thanks to a three-run seventh inning this time.

“I’ve been involved for 27 years, this is my second, so it’s a pretty big deal for us,” coach Lee Johnson said after the win. “We’ve been here a lot, but there was just something special about this group of kids that I knew they had grit and determination. They were going to find a way.”

Hall-Dale’s championship win over Dexter, a 5-0 final, capped off a 17-0 season and came as a breakthrough for a program that had annually had solid teams, but had had trouble getting past the Maranacook, Winthrop and, in particular, Madison teams that always stood in the way.

“From the start of the season, I thought we had a good chance,” junior center fielder Tanley Tibbetts said afterward. “But, honestly, I didn’t know how far we were going to make it. … I thought ‘Maybe we could do it,’ but once we won regionals, we were so confident that we could do it if we showed up and played.”

The Hall-Dale softball team mobs pitcher Rita Benoit, top right, after she threw the final strike during the Class C championship game this season in Standish. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Hall-Dale’s strength was its depth, in the form of two quality pitchers in Rita Benoit and Ashlynn Donahue, and a lineup that hit one through nine and featured a different standout each game.

“Everybody in the lineup was close to .300 or above,” coach Steve Acedo said. “That makes you pretty hard to get out.”

In addition to the teams that won it all, three others went deep into the postseason. Winslow, led by Leah Knight and Emma Michaud, went from winning four regular season games all the way to the Class B final. Madison, with Mountain Valley Conference Player of the Year Brooke McKenney leading an experienced quartet that also included shortstop Landyn Landry, catcher Lillian Levesque and third baseman Jerzey Tewksbury, made its eighth straight regional final. And Nokomis withstood the loss of standout shortstop Camryn King to reach the Class B final.

Several others had strong seasons. Messalonskee, led by hard-hitting catcher Brooke Martin and new pitcher Kate Douglass, earned the top seed in Class A North. Waterville, led by pitcher and leading hitter Raylee Gilbert, Gardiner and Lawrence all won playoff games and reached the Class B regional quarterfinals. Maranacook and Monmouth reached the semifinals in Class C South, while Winthrop made the quaterfinals. In Class D, Richmond made it to the South quarterfinals.

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