Last season, the Skowhegan softball team rallied to beat Biddeford for its first Class A title since 2014, finishing 19-1.

This spring, the River Hawks are well-positioned to go back to back.

Although it graduated slugging third baseman Mariah Whittemore, Skowhegan returns a strong core, including senior shortstop Jaycie Christopher. The River Hawks also return catcher Emily Dunbar, pitcher Sierra Carey, second baseman Maddie Morris and outfielder Annabelle Morris, to name a few.

“We’ve got a lot of returning kids,” Skowhegan head coach Lee Johnson said. “We lost two starters from last year’s team, so we have a good nucleus. Of course, every year is different… Last year was a special year for us. This year is going to be a challenge. Everybody is going to try to knock you off. You’re going to get everyone’s best shot. But hopefully our kids are up for the challenge.”

Like Skowhegan, Hall-Dale is also coming off a state title, this one in Class C. The Bulldogs return the bulk of its roster, making it an instant threat to defend its title.

Head coach Steve Acedo also has some promising freshmen fighting for playing time in the lineup.

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“We had nine freshmen come in, we ended up with four of those on varsity,” Acedo said. “It gives us a lot of options in the field defensively, even offensively. It gives us different routes we can take. It’s a pleasant surprise with the freshmen class.”

Skowhegan coach  Johnson expects tough competition throughout the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A this spring. Messalonskee, which finished the regular season 14-2 and entered the A North playoffs as the No. 1 seed before falling to Bangor in the quarterfinals, should also be strong this season.

“I think it’s going to be a competitive league, there’s a lot of good teams,” Johnson said. “Bangor, who we played in the finals last year, is going to be strong; they have a lot of kids back. Definitely Hampden (Academy) has a lot of pieces. Messalonskee is always strong, same with Brewer. Every game is going to be a battle, there’s not going to be any easy ones.”

In KVAC B, Winslow staged an improbable run through the playoffs last season, culminating in a trip to the Class B championship game despite going 4-11 during the regular season. The Black Raiders return most of their lineup this season, including catcher Harley Pomerleau and third baseman Leah Knight. Emma Michaud will lead Winslow in the circle.

“We’re finally in a position where we have more experience on the field than not, for the first time since I’ve started there,” head coach Kasey Larsen said. “We’re not terribly young anymore. We’ve got some solid leadership.”

Nokomis, which fell to Winslow in the B North title game last season, is looking to make a strong push once again the KVAC B. Sophomore Mia Coots returns as the Warriors’ top pitcher. Nokomis is also looking forward to the return of second baseman Camryn King, who was lost during the regular season last year due to an ACL injury in her knee. Head coach J.D. McLellan said King is “about 95 percent back” from the injury and ready to produce at the plate. Catcher Megan Watson will also be counted on to contribute.

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“We’re looking right on track,” McLellan said. “I think we’re going to do really well again. I think there’s a couple good, tough teams out there. Our schedule is completely different from last year. We’re playing Cony this year, which I haven’t seen in a lot of years. Lawrence is always good. It’s going to be tough. With the players that we’ve got, I think we’re going to do really well.”

In Class B South, Gardiner reached the regional quarterfinals last season before falling to No. 1 seed Fryeburg. The Tigers expect to be strong again, led by pitcher Brooke Gero. Head coach Ryan Gero said a tough schedule awaits.

“Our conference is a lot different than Class B North,” Ryan Gero said. “We deal with the bigger schools like the Cape Elizabeths and the Fryeburgs. Their number count is way higher than ours. I think we’ll compete. I think we’ll be right there. I really strongly believe our team has a chance, but we have to perform, that’s what it’s going to come down to. These girls have got to have everything clicking together. When everyone has everything clicking together, we’re going to be a hard team to get past.”

Hall-Dale enters this campaign as the favorite in the Mountain Valley Conference, but will be tested.

Cony teammates watch from dugout as Haylee Cyr connects for a hit against Erskine Academy in an April 6 softball scrimmage at Newman Brann Memorial Field in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I think it’s going to be good, I don’t think many of the (MVC) teams had big senior classes (last year),” Acedo said. “I think there’s a few that have a few big senior classes after this season, graduate a lot…. Madison is going to be good. Monmouth (Academy) still has their pitching. We’re playing Buckfield this year and they have some good, young pitching out there. Winthrop is going to be okay pitching-wise. I think it’ll come down to teams getting the bat on the ball against the good pitching.”

Hall-Dale has a strong 1-2 pitching combo in Ashlynn Donahue and Rita Benoit, though Acedo has four pitchers on the roster he feels he can use in the circle at any given time. That pitching, coupled with a strong lineup that includes catcher Zoe Soule, who proved dangerous with the bat as a freshman last season, makes the Bulldogs strong contenders for a repeat.

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Madison, which fell to Hall-Dale in the Class C South regional final, returns a strong core with state title experience, including top pitcher Brooke McKenney, as well as Landyn Landry, one of Madison’s more experienced hitters.

“This is a veteran team with six seniors,” Madison head coach Chris LeBlanc said. “This is the last hurrah for three of those seniors who were fortunate enough to play in a state championship game when they were freshmen. We fell short last year to Hall-Dale, who, in my opinion, is the dominant team coming back in our conference. We’ll be chasing Hall-Dale. Monmouth is well coached. We’ve got some other teams that are on the rise in the MVC.”

Monmouth Academy and Maranacook should be in the mix, along with Winthrop.

In Class D, Richmond enters the season with a new head coach in Joe Viselli. The Bobcats will look to get back to its more dominant ways after being knocked out of the D South quarterfinals last spring. Valley, which entered the D South playoffs as the No. 2 seed last year, will also be in the conference mix.

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

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Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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