South Portland’s Richie Gilboy, left, celebrates with Johnny Poole during a game against Falmouth last May. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

1. South Portland: The Red Riots have appeared in the past three Class A South finals, and there’s reason to believe they’ll get at least that far again. Start with pitching, where South Portland brings back one of the SMAA’s best in Andrew Heffernan (6-2, 0.65 ERA, 58 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings). The Riots also have Nolan Hobbs (7-1, 1.38) and Nick Swain back on the mound. Catcher Richie Gilboy will complete the battery again after batting .410 a season ago, and shortstop Johnny Poole (.338, 20 steals) is a threat at the plate and on the base paths. If there is a weakness or question mark for the Riots, it’s an outfield that has no varsity experience. If that settles, however, South Portland will be a favorite again.

2. Thornton Academy: After winning  the Class A championship last spring, the Golden Trojans said goodbye to one of the state’s best players, but not necessarily their status as a regional favorite. Varsity Maine Player of the Year Cody Bowker is gone, but Josh Kopetski, a hard-throwing lefty who went 9-0 with a 0.67 ERA last season and brings a mid-80s fastball, will be one of southern Maine’s top pitchers. Thornton also brings back an excellent defensive center fielder in Henry Lausier, along with cleanup hitter Brayden Williams. Jeremiah Chessie, who has started at shortstop since his freshman year, is likely to pitch more this season. Owen Critchley, a part-time player before this season, is poised for a bigger role. If Thornton finds a strong No. 2 and 3 pitcher behind Kopetski, look out.

3. Falmouth: The Navigators should be a contender again after earning a No. 2 seed in Class A South and coming within a run of the regional final. Eli Cowperthwaite (3-1, 2.85, 58 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings) is back on the mound and in the outfield and will be one of the SMAA’s best players. Catcher Ethan Hendry returns after batting in the cleanup spot, and Brennan Rumpf is a returning starter at second base and on the mound. Mitch Ham, a starter at third base, sophomores Josh Polchies and Tyler Simmons and freshman Jacoby Porter are also primed to make an impact. Coach Mike D’Andrea likes the depth he has on the mound, and its ability to take Falmouth far.

Greely pitcher/third baseman Marky Axelsen hit .453 with four home runs and 21 RBI last season. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

4. Greely: Some might be willing to overlook Greely after the graduation of aces Zach Johnston and Ryan Kolben, but that could end up being a fool’s errand. The Rangers are still set up for success, with third baseman and pitcher Marky Axelsen leading the way after he hit .453 with four home runs and 21 RBI a season ago. First baseman Mason Kelso batted .300 with 19 RBI, catcher Wyatt Soucie hit .313 as a freshman, second baseman Sam Almy hit .308, and center fielder Jackson Leding batted .300 and was a second-team all-WMC selection. So Greely can hit. The question will be pitching, as Axelsen steps into a bigger role and Almy and Keeler Vogt likely take spots in the rotation. Expect the Rangers to figure it out; as one rival coach said, “They don’t really rebuild there. They reload.”

5. Gorham: The Rams earned a No. 5 seed in the Class A South tournament last year and should be a tough matchup again. Key pieces are back everywhere: second baseman Quinn Dillon hit .340, center fielder Brady Wintle hit .346, catcher Mason Finck hit .395 as a freshman, and left fielder Cody Sellick and right fielder CJ Whitehead return to starting jobs. The Rams also have a budding ace in 6-foot-6 Wyatt Nadeau, whose fastball can reach 90 mph. A sophomore, he is already committed to Vanderbilt University. Nadeau pitched only 18 innings as a freshman, but finished with a 1.56 ERA and should slide into a bigger role. If there’s an Achilles’ heel for Gorham, it’s inexperience. Four of the top five pitchers are sophomores or freshmen, so big games will be a test.

6. Sacopee Valley: The bad news for the Hawks was that a 16-3 season ended with an upset loss in the Class C South semifinals. The good news is that they’re well-stocked to try again. Sacopee returns all of its pitching, led by Carson Black (1.88 ERA, 66 strikeouts), Grady Cummings (1.20 ERA, 70 strikeouts) and Caleb Vacchiano (2.27 ERA). Black (.477, six home runs), Vacchiano (.446, 14 stolen bases), Austin Croteau (.377, 20 RBI) and Brady Metcalf (.397, 16 RBI) form the heart of a potent lineup. Six of nine starters are back, and Coach Jamie Stacey said he’s confident going eight-deep with his pitching staff. In Class C, where depth can be hard to come by, Sacopee Valley could go into the season as a championship favorite.


7. Scarborough: The Red Storm were a top-four seed in Class A South last year, and they bring back some key contributors. Senior outfielder Ashton Blanchette hit .404, junior first baseman Mason Porter hit .333, and junior Harrison Griffiths and sophomore Erik Swenson pitched 30 and 37 innings. Blanchette, Porter and Swenson were second-team all-SMAA picks. Coach Wes Ridlon is confident his team will pitch and defend as well as any in A South, but the key for the Red Storm will be whether they can come through with timely hits. Keep an eye on outfielder Aiden Bristol, catcher Tyler Kenney and infielder/pitcher Tyler Archambault, who are new to the mix and will take on key roles.

8. Yarmouth: The Clippers head into the season with one of Class B’s best pitching staffs. Liam Hickey (5-2, 1.46 ERA) and Sam Lowenstein (5-2, 1.76) were first- and second-team all-WMC picks. Andrew Cheever threw only 5 2/3 innings last season but struck out 12 and had a 2.47 ERA; he is likely to take on a bigger role this spring. The Clippers should also be strong at the plate, with Cheever (.321 batting average), David Swift (.295, 12 RBI) and Sam Bradford (.357) expected to form the heart of the lineup. Third baseman/shortstop Stevie Walsh (.304) and second baseman Matt Gautreau (.278) also are back after starting last year. This is a team that stole 42 bases in 49 tries last year, so expect the Clippers to make things happen on the bases.

9. York: The Wildcats return experienced players from a team that reached the Class B South quarterfinals and will be looking to go even farther. Junior shortstop Brody Gullison hit .426 with 11 extra-base hits (four home runs), and earned first-team all-WMC honors last year. The Wildcats bring back strong hitters in first baseman Jake Fogg (.365) and designated hitter Leo Sullivan (.367). John Jacobsohn was third on the team in innings last season and finished with a 2.47 ERA. Pitching behind Jacobsohn will be the key. If Ben Brown and Jack Joyce, with 19 1/3 innings between them a year ago, step into No. 2 and 3 roles, then the Wildcats should be among the top contenders in the region.

10. Waynflete/NYA: After reaching the Class C South quarterfinals, the Waynflete/NYA co-op has reason to expect big things. Six starters are back, including first-team all-WMC selections in catcher/pitcher Cooper St. Hilaire, shortstop Daxton St. Hilaire and junior pitcher/infielder Cole Lambert. Senior second baseman Jack Byrne was a second-team selection, and senior outfielders Lincoln Smith and Nolan Pecora are also back in starting spots. Tanner Anctil, a senior transfer, should have an impact as well, making this an even more dangerous from top to bottom. This team will be good enough to win, and, with so many seniors, hungry to win as well.

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