Softball: Perennial power Biddeford steps into season as a team in transition

Mar. 19—BIDDEFORD — There's a new pitcher for the Biddeford High softball team. A new cleanup hitter. New table setter. Even a new coach.

"Lot of new faces," said Don Stanhope, the new coach.

Pitchers-and-catchers week marks a period of transition for baseball and softball teams statewide, and this year the Tigers are firmly in that camp. For the past couple of years, the preseason has been mostly about fine-tuning for Biddeford, which enjoyed three years of dominant pitching from Charlotte Donovan, three years of slugging from first baseman Baylor Wilkinson and three years of top-of-the-lineup production from All-State outfielder Laura Perreault.

This year, the Tigers have holes to fill and questions to answer.

"In the hallway and in between classes, when the kids stop by, everyone seems very excited," said Stanhope, who takes over after coaching Bangor for 16 years. "There are opportunities for new starters ... so we've got some kids who are eager and willing to work, and who have been working over the winter to try to take one of those spots and really run with it."

The trio of Donovan (14-1, 1.96 ERA; .556 average), Wilkinson (.619, 25 RBI) and Perreault (.455, 23 runs) emerged as sophomores and led the Tigers to a 52-8 record over the past three seasons, a run that included three trips to the Class A South final, two berths in the state championship game and one Class A title.

Shortstop Hannah Lappin, who batted .281 and drove in 22 runs, has also graduated, depriving the Tigers of their top four hitters from a season ago. Stanhope, however, sounded upbeat about the upcoming season.

"We have half the returning starting lineup from last year, so a couple of those girls are looking to change positions, looking again at a new opportunity," he said. "But I don't think any team is going to say we're just rebuilding. There are always kids who have put in the time and they're ready to jump into that spot."

The Tigers' core will be the five returning starters: senior catcher Victoria Barrow and outfielder Lily LeSieur, junior third baseman Jaylah Trottier and outfielder Eliza Doyon, and sophomore second baseman Kayla Magnant. Doyon and Trottier hit .385 and .342 last year.

"We're all going to grow, and I think that we're a very hard-working team. I think we'll have a very good season because of that," Barrow said. "This is their moment to shine. I think they know that, and I think that they're ready for it."

The biggest task will be replacing Donovan.

In softball, there's no bigger piece than the pitcher, and the Tigers had one of the state's best. Stanhope said the team will likely take a committee approach in the circle, and a pair of sophomores in Magnant and Madi Roy will likely figure prominently into the mix, with LeSieur, Trottier and Corinne Ramunno vying for innings as well.

"I'm really excited to step into that role," Magnant said. "They're obviously big shoes to fill, but it's kind of good to kind of put my team on my back. ... It's a lot to take on, but I'm excited, I'm ready."

Neither Magnant nor Roy have Donovan's velocity — "I'm not a blow-it-by-people (pitcher)," Magnant said — but both are eager for the challenge.

"It's definitely nerve-wracking," Roy said. "It depends on the day. Sometimes I'm excited, sometimes I'm nervous. But at the end of the day, you've just got to work hard and achieve your goals. If you have a bad game, hey, you just come back the next day and work harder."

Overseeing it all will be Stanhope, who takes over for Mike Fecteau, who left after compiling a 70-25 record over five seasons. Stanhope went 175-81 and reached the 2010 Class A final with Bangor, and was an assistant with the Tigers last year.

"I had never done that. I enjoyed the heck out of it," Stanhope said. "Now coming back into the role I'm familiar with, I think it's helped me see things better. I've always been really excited about the game itself, but now I've got a little bit of a different perspective. So this is an exciting season."