The North Bayside Division softball championship has been the exclusive property of Talbot and Caroline counties over the last 24 years.

Cambridge-South Dorchester High and Queen Anne’s County each had a chance to end that reign a year ago, and again have the talent to move the division crown elsewhere this spring.

“We are super excited,” said Queen Anne’s head coach Kim Betts, whose team won its first section title in school history a year ago, and figures to push for its first North and Bayside Conference crown since 1994 this season. “We have a really nice balance of speed and power throughout the entire lineup.”

The Vikings look to have the same mix, led by sophomore Maddie Pleasants, the North Bayside Player of the Year last season, who went 17-4 on the mound with a 1.76 earned-run average and 232 strikeouts.

“I’ve never had a year where I had no seniors,” Cambridge-SD head coach Kareem Otey said. “And last year we had no seniors. So everybody has come back. And I feel like they saw what they could do last year and they are even more hungrier this year.”

The Vikings were denied their first-ever division title a year ago when Easton scored two ninth-inning runs for a 6-5 victory that helped St. Michaels earn its second North crown in three years. The Warriors have won more division championships (12) than any other North team over the last 24 years, and figure to be in the hunt again this year.

The Saints graduated ace hurler McKenna Browning, the school’s career wins leader, but with practically everyone else back should again be in force in the division.

Winners of eight division crowns over the past 24 years, North Caroline has been a perennial title contender on multiple levels, but graduated nine players from last year’s team, and with a host of new faces, will focus on building toward being a challenger when the postseason arrives under first-year head coach Mike Penn.

Colonel Richardson has a pair of North championships to its credit, and with the return of ace Jen Larrimore and a solid supporting cast, the Colonels have reason for title aspirations after losing a 1-0 heartbreaker in the Class 1A East Section I semifinals last year to eventual 1A state champion Bohemia Manor.

Here’s a look at this year’s teams:

Cambridge-SD (18-4)

Head Coach: Kareem Otey.

Who’s Where: Brooke Windsor (Jr., 1B); Natalie Kerr (So., 2B); Maddie Lednum (Sr., SS); Kady Willey (Fr., 3B); Ariah Matos (Jr., C); Delanie Henry (Jr., LF); Abby Robinson (Sr., CF); Adrienne Kane (Sr., RF); Maddie Pleasants (So., P).

Outlook: The Vikings set a school record for victories last year and could eclipse that mark again this year.

“Last year has come and gone,” Otey said. “This year is a new year and we’re just focusing on making those routine plays. Nothing fancy. Just making the most out of every at-bat we have. Making sure we work the pitcher. And just going hard.”

The Vikings should be hard to beat again with the return of Pleasants, who logged two no-hitters, two one-hitters, two two-hitters, and four three-hitters last season, and was equally impressive at the plate, batting .625 with seven home runs, 34 RBIs, seven doubles and 29 runs scored.

Lednum was a first-team All-North Bayside selection at shortstop last season and is surrounded by familiar faces.

“I just think they are ready to go and I’m excited to have all of them back,” Otey said. “If we win, we win. If we come up short, we do better the next game. Hopefully we’ll do better than last year.”

Colonel Richardson (13-7)

Head Coach: Brett Ireland

Who’s Where: Alexis Bates (Jr., 1B); Meredith Camacho (Jr., 1B); Delainey Sann (So., 2B/LF); Grace Buchanan (So., 2B/LF); Cassidy Stubbs (Jr., 3B); Madison Covey (So., SS); Jen Larrimore (Sr., P/SS); Megan Stubbs (Jr., C); Marissa Hyland (So., P); Ka’Nyha Raikes (Sr., CF); Reagan Tull (Sr., RF).

Outlook: Of its seven losses last year, three were by one run and another was by two.

“We just got to build a little bit more depth in our lineup,” Ireland said of his offense. “That was a struggle for us last year was the depth. We were pretty solid the first five hitters or so. Hopefully we’ll have a deeper lineup. That matters in a tight game.”

Larrimore, who won eight of her first nine last year, including a victory over Cambridge-SD, is one of the conference’s best in the circle. If the defense can be sound and the offense provides more pop the Colonels should be tough again in the division and region.

“I think we’ll be strong on the mound,” Ireland said. “I think we’ll be strong behind the plate. I’m hoping we can make enough plays defensively. That hurt us in a couple of those one-run ballgames last year. Hopefully we can build some depth throughout the lineup and we’re playing our best ball at the right time.”

Easton (11-8)

Head Coach: Jen Powell

Who’s Where: Danielle Mills (Jr., 1B); Olivia Brown (So., 2B); Olivia Ball (Jr., SS); Chloe Briner (So., 3B); Udairi Jackson (So., C); Hannah Rector (Sr., LF); Megan Kolakowski (Sr., CF/P); Jess Millard (So., RF/P); Kate Chapple (So., P); Erica Barrow (So., P).

Outlook: The Warriors struggled early last year — going an uncharacteristic 3-6 — then won eight of their last 10. Powell wasn’t surprised by that slow start, considering the number of freshmen starters on the field, and hopes to avoid a similar beginning this spring, though her team remains young.

“All of them are returning and they have a little bit of age on them now.” Powell said of her strong sophomore class. “We’re still young, still (six) sophomores, but they should be more comfortable starting the season off.”

Peyton Elzey, who handled a healthy portion of the pitching a year ago, graduated. But Chapple, a first-team All-North Bayside pick a year ago, has the talent to continue Easton’s rich pitching tradition, along with Kolakowski, Millard and Barrow. A stronger start could have the Warriors challenging for another division crown.

“They definitely had to get use to the level of competition and being able to work together,” Powell said of last year. “And some of them (were) put in positions that maybe they don’t normally (play) on their other (travel) teams, and figuring it all out as a team to become better as we went on.”

Kent County (4-14)

Head Coach: Michelle Phillips, 2nd season.

Who’s Where: Maddie Kendall (So., 1B); Macy Willis (Sr., 1B); Brianna Pierce (Sr., 2B/P); Kendell Ford (Fr., 2B); Ally Hickman (Jr., SS); Yasmine Jiggetts (Jr., 3B); Matalyn Cesarini (Jr., C/CF); Brianca Potts (Fr., LF); Jillian Hyland (Sr., LF/RF); Sydney Usilton (Fr., CF/P); Mattie Bakeoven (Sr. RF); Samantha King (Jr., OF); Lexi Langenfelder (Jr., P).

Outlook: Like many teams, the weather has limited the Trojans’ ability to get outside, see live pitching, and get accustomed to playing together.

“We’ve only had two days outside,” Phillips said Sunday. “Once we get use to everybody understanding their role and how to play next to one another, I think things will come together for us this year.”

Kent Island (6-13)

Head Coach: Justin Lewis, 1st season.

Who’s Where: Emily Blum (Jr., 1B); Danielle Kosowski (Fr., 2B); Katie Sonneveldt (Jr., SS); Kennedy Warren (Jr., 3B); Jessica Balderson (So., C); Audrey Haigis (Jr., LF); Alexis Armes (Fr., CF); Gabrielle Davalos (Jr., RF); Makayla Lowery (Jr., P).

Outlook: Lewis coached the junior varsity for three years, then took over as head varsity coach for Bryon Sofinowski midway through last season. The Bucs could be a dark horse with the transfer of Lowery from South Carroll. Blum was a first-team All-North pick a year ago, and heads a group that could be ready make a push for the top of the division.

“We have a lot of talent,” Lewis said. “We’re excited about this core of juniors that have been together for three years to take the next step. We really believe that Makayla, our pitcher, is going to make a big difference for us this year. I really think Makayla gives us a chance to fix what was probably one of our areas of inconsistency last year, and just really focus on playing good defense.”

North Caroline (15-5)

Head Coach: Mike Penn

Who’s Where: Kiley Macmillan (Jr., 1B); Emily Darling (So., 2B/P); Morgan Towers (So., SS); Lauren Williamson (3B, Jr.); Hayden Smith (C, Sr.); Tanya Haro (Jr., LF); Jada Allen (Jr., CF); Sara Kintop (Jr., RF/P); Kattie Hutchison (So., P).

Outlook: Andrea Ward, who led the Bulldogs to a 39-5 record over the past two years, including a 24-0 season that ended with the 2A state championship in 2017, stepped down after last year. Penn, who has coached the junior varsity the past three years, takes over a program that graduated the bulk of last year’s team, including first-team All-North Bayside picks Kendall Dixon and Megan Robbins, and second-teamers Sarah Mast, McKenzie Werner and Ali Ward.

“It sounds like the cliché stuff, but we’re going to be competitive, and I just hope we’re better at the end of the year,” Penn said.

Penn’s preseason focus has been putting players in positions some haven’t played before, but his familiarity with his players should benefit that process.

“We’re just trying to put together a team and go from there; get them confidence and hopefully we’re in good shape for the playoffs,” Penn said. “I’ve had a couple of surprises, but I kind of knew going in what I was going to do with everybody, even though some of them haven’t played there before.”

North Dorchester (3-14)

Head Coach: Carol Hubbard.

Who’s Where: Kaitlyn Wolfe (So., 1B); Rachel Windsor (Sr., SS); Lily Allen (So., 3B); Kara Robbins (So., C); Anna Hubbard (Jr., RF); Meredith Coulbourne (Jr., CF); Abigail Callahan (So., LF); Leann Asplen (Sr., P); Kinley Elliott (Fr., P).

Outlook: After a two-year hiatus, Hubbard returns as head coach, succeeding Clark Harrison. Though the Eagles are in a tough division, as well as regional section that includes Cambridge-SD, Mardela, St. Michaels and Snow Hill, Hubbard has liked what she’s seen in her team’s limited time outside. Elliott worked two strong innings and hit a grand slam in a scrimmage last week.

“If our pitching holds up we’ve got a pretty solid team,” Hubbard said. “We’re a little on the young side; we’ve got a lot of sophomores. But they’re all strong players and that kind of bodes well for me.”

Queen Anne’s County (13-5)

Head Coach: Kim Betts.

Who’s Where: Lindsay Ray (Sr., 1B); Emily Gunther (Fr., 1B); Alyssa Sofinowski (Jr., 2B); Breanna Athey (So., SS); Aly Hall (Sr., 3B); Kamryn Brandt (So., C); Taylor Walls (Jr., LF); Julia Smith (Jr., CF). Camryn Wingate (Jr., P)

Outlook: The Lions graduated one of the division’s better pitchers in Leah Bradley, but Whiteford, a first-team All-North Bayside pick who Betts tagged a great all-around player, is back to lead a staff that includes Wingate and Gunther.

Though second baseman Sydney Parsons graduated, Sofinowski, a transfer from Kent Island, steps into that role to give Queen Anne’s what should be one of the North’s stronger infields.

“We return pretty much our entire squad,” said Betts of a team that includes second-team All-North selections Athey, Hall, and Smith.

Queen Anne’s division-title run in 1994 was followed by a 4-3 victory over Parkside in the Bayside Conference championship.

St. Michaels (15-6)

Head Coach: David Fisher.

Who’s Where: Hanna Seek (So., 1B); Jozie Wilson (Sr., 2B); Sincere Taylor (Jr., SS); Savannah Stewart (Sr., 3B); Layla Berry (Sr., C); Kristin Lednum (So., CF); Kate Lenkiewicz (Jr., RF); Leeloo Harrington (So., P); Haley Sadler (Fr., P); Stevie Shaak (Fr., C/Utility).

Outlook: Browning, the school’s career leader for pitching victories (42-18 record, and possibly strikeouts with 496), graduated and is now at Delaware Tech. Filling that void is one of Fisher’s bigger concerns, along with his defense. Like most North schools this preseason, weather has prevented the Saints from getting on the field to work on fielding.

“Defensively, we’re still working out some kinks, but I like where we’re headed,” Fisher said. “Pitching, we don’t have McKenna, so we’re feeling our way out a little bit there. We’re a bit young.”

Sadler and Harrington will shoulder the pitching load, and if that duo develops along with the defense that is anchored by first-team All-North Bayside catcher Berry, the Saints should again be a tough draw.

Of its six losses a year ago, three were by one run and two others were by two runs. The offense again looks formidable and could keep St. Michaels in every game.

“Offensively I think we’re still competitive,” Fisher said. “We’re where we should be, where we like to be. Where we can finish, I don’t know. But I think we have the offense to stay in games.”

Follow me on Twitter @Bill_Haufe. Email me at bhaufe@stardem.com

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