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Softball preview: Defending champion Windham aims for a repeat in Class A

Apr. 10—The hunger for another Class A softball state championship, Windham Coach Darcey Gardiner said, began in June, the moment the Eagles recorded the last out to win their first Class A title.

As for when that championship hunger came back into focus? According again to Gardiner, that happened in early March when the Windham boys' basketball team supplanted the softball team as the school's most recent state champion.

"The boys winning in basketball, and seeing the community get behind the boys the way they did, that has really brought out the passion and the fire in the girls, even more than last year," Gardiner said. "Last year, (it was) the unspoken goal of making it that far. This year, it's something that we're talking about right from Day One."

A motivated Eagles team is bad news for the rest of Class A. It's hard to find a Maine softball team that's deeper, more talented and better equipped to win.

"I feel like Windham is the Biddeford of a couple years ago. They're the No. 1, and everyone is chasing them until someone proves otherwise," Thornton Academy Coach Tony Miner said. "I honestly feel like the conference is theirs to lose."

Cheverus Coach John Eisenhart called Windham "the benchmark."

"Outstanding pitching, outstanding defense, outstanding lineup. They're the standard," he said. "When you play them, you'll figure out how good you are. I don't see any holes there."

The Eagles rolled to their first Class A championship last year by going 18-2, capping it off with a 3-1 win over Oxford Hills. They did it with a young roster that returns largely intact, with their heaviest hitters and top players back for another title bid. The group includes SMAA all-conference picks in catcher Stella Jarvais, a Varsity Maine All-State selection after batting .455 with 26 RBI in the regular season, and first baseman and pitcher Kennedy Kimball, who hit .481 and drove in 20 runs.

Addie Caiazzo returns at shortstop after hitting .354 as a freshman, Chloe Edwards is back at third after hitting .357, and outfielders Oakley McLeod and Kyla Harvie return after starting in the corners. Jaydn Kimball, currently out because of a hip injury, could return before the end of the season and provide the Eagles with their best power bat.

And, of course, there's Brooke Gerry, the 2023 Varsity Maine Player of the Year who finished the year 12-0 with a 0.17 ERA and 177 strikeouts in 85 innings, while also hitting .561 out of the leadoff spot.

"Our lineup right now is very, very strong. One through nine, we're very versatile," Jarvais said. "Even people from our school, not a lot of people follow softball especially, but then last year was an eye-opener. ... We get asked a lot, 'Are you guys going to repeat?'"

It's a different question than the one that had circled around Windham in recent years, which was wondering when the Eagles would finally break through to win a Class A championship. Now that that's been answered, don't expect Windham to be any less motivated.

"People say it's easy to win one state championship. The hardest part is to bring back the second," Gerry said. "We definitely know that we still have to keep that focus. The target is still on our back."

The Eagles are the hunted, more so than ever, and they know it. That should prevent complacency from setting in.

"One hundred percent, we're hungry for more," Jarvais said. "I think a lot of people are (hoping) for our downfall. ... This year, everyone is expecting us to do well, but not wanting us to."

Focus won't be an issue for the Eagles, because there are several other potential contenders just in their own conference. Gorham, for instance, returns eight starters from a team that reached the South semifinals, Cheverus has an outstanding group of young players, and Kennebunk still has elite pitcher Julia Pike, so Windham players know the path to championship No. 2 will have hurdles.

"We talk a lot about other teams and we always remind ourselves these teams have all these great hitters, and all these great fielders, and this pitcher is back," Kennedy Kimball said. "We've been reminding ourselves that, yes, we have most of the same team back and we did well. But other teams have grown as well."

Whether they've grown enough to reach Windham's level is a different question. The Eagles are eager to prove no one has.

"We proved that we can do it. But no one's being cocky about it," Gerry said. "It's something to be grateful for and very happy about, but on the other hand, you have to move on at some point. We got our glory, but now it's back to work."