Hall-Dale players celebrate their Class C North championship victory over Monmouth Academy in Gorham. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

It may be a new high school softball season in central Maine. But there’s at least one storyline that continues into 2024.

Hall-Dale, the three-time defending Class C champion, returns nearly its entire starting lineup, making the Bulldogs the heavy favorite to once again take home another Gold Glove. The Bulldogs — who finished 20-0 — carry a 56-game winning streak into the season.

Rita Benoit, a standout pitcher and first baseman, was the lone Hall-Dale starter who graduated. Ashlynn Donahue, who paired with Benoit as one half of a dynamic pitching duo, will be the team’s ace in the circle.

“We’ve got solid starting pitching, we’ve got Zoe (Soule) back as our catcher,” said Hall-Dale head coach Steve Acedo, who has returned for the season after moving to Texas last spring.

Hall-Dale’s lineup is loaded. Soule (.585 batting average, 32 RBIs) enters her fourth year as the team’s starting catcher. Jade Graham cracked five home runs and 31 RBIs last year. Donahue (.667 average) and Torie Tibbetts (.509 average) showed consistency at the plate.

“We’re feeling lucky that we don’t have to fill in five position spots, like we had to do last year,” Acedo said. “I’m looking forward to the season. I think we’ll be pretty solid. If our bats go as well as I think they will, we should compete all season.”


The Bulldogs aren’t taking an easy path, either. One of Hall-Dale’s opponents this season is Nokomis, the defending Class B North champion.

Hall-Dale will have its typical strong competition within the Mountain Valley Conference. Monmouth Academy, which went 17-2 last season, will be in the mix, though the Mustangs lost top pitcher and Miss Maine Softball finalist Brooklyn Federico to graduation.

“We’re young, very young. But we’ll be solid,” Monmouth head coach Dave Kaplan said. “Every one (of the freshmen) have ability. It’s raw ability, but it’s workable. We’ll be solid on the mound. We nearly hit .400 as a team last year. We lost one big bat, but we’ve got kids that can hit. We will hit.”

Another storyline within the conference is the new Maranacook/Winthrop co-op team, led by former Maranacook assistant Amy Jones. Mariah Dunbar, not long removed from her days as a standout at Skowhegan, is the new head coach at Madison. The Bulldogs have Mackenzie Robbins, Kylee Furbush and Hope Nadeau back among their key returners.

In Class C North, Maine Central Institute has the potential to improve upon a 10-7 finish last season.

Nokomis pitcher Mia Coots tries to catch a line drive against York in last June’s Class B softball state championship game on in Brewer. Morning Sentinel file

Nokomis was nearly perfect a season ago, falling 2-1 to York in the Class B championship game last season to finish 19-1. The Warriors graduated some key talent — including catcher Megan Watson and shortstop Camryn King — but are confident they can return to the state final.


A large reason for that confidence is the return of pitcher Mia Coots, the two-time Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B Player of the Year. Coots has struck out 475 batters combined over the past two seasons, including 251 last season. Her sister, incoming freshman Hallie Coots, takes over behind the plate as the starting catcher.

“We graduated our offense, but (Mia Coots) will keep us in every single game,” Nokomis head coach JD McLellan said. “Our schedule is brutal. We’ve got Skowhegan, we’ve got Hall-Dale and Gardiner. And we still have to play Lawrence twice.”

Lawrence, which returns KVAC B first-team selection Kaylee Elkins, should also be among the teams in the Class B North mix.

In Class B South, Gardiner will look to overcome a heavy loss of players to graduation. The Tigers — who finished 15-3 last season and fell to Lake Region in the B South semifinals — won’t have to worry about replacing a pitcher or their top slugger. Senior lefty Lainey Cooley will lead Gardiner in the circle, while senior slugger Taylor Takatsu, a KVAC B first-team pick, will hold down the heart of the batting order.

“We lost six starters, so it’s a bit of a rebuild year,” Gardiner head coach Ryan Gero said. “But we have some good, young talent that’s really stepping up. We just have to fine tune some stuff, but I think we’re going to be alright.”

In Class A, Skowhegan is ready to take another step forward after a 16-3 finish last year that included a trip to the Class A North final.


“I’m feeling pretty optimistic with our group,” Skowhegan head coach Lee Johnson said. “We have most of our starters back from last year, we graduated two starters.. .. We’ve got the same pitcher back and pretty much the same nucleus defensively. We just need to see if we can build up some of those offensive slots that were key for us last year.”

Lily Noyes returns in the circle for the River Hawks. Noyes had a 2.19 ERA last season and struck out 141 batters.

Messalonskee, which finished 13-5 with a trip to the A North semifinals, returns strong numbers this spring. The Eagles bring back senior shortstop Elise McDonald, who hit .45o and was a KVAC A first-team selection last year. But Messalonskee must find a new pitcher to replace Morgan Wills, who had a 1.06 ERA and struck out 219 batters.

In Class D, both Valley and Richmond will try to take a step further in the playoffs. The Bobcats reached the D South semifinals before falling to North Yarmouth Academy.

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