With seven returners and three four-year starters for the Lions, Belfast Area High School softball coach Chris Bartlett hopes his seventh season will be better than ever.

After placing 10th and falling to No. 2 Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln in the regional quarterfinals last year, the Lions want to get back on their feet and challenge for a top postseason spot.

The Lions have started the season 1-1, with a win over Mount View of Thorndike and loss to Medomak Valley of Waldoboro.

“Obviously, we want to finish better than what we did last year,” Bartlett said. “Our expectations are to finish higher than that and not go into the last week of the season and have to win games. If we want to have to win games it’s obviously to improve our place and try to get home field playoff games.”

The Lions include seniors Victoria Overlock (pitcher, third base), Morgan Mansfield (second base), Ashland Hall (third base), Krissy Kelly (left field), Adrianne Small (catcher), Hayley Rae (shortstop) and Carly Emt (right field); juniors Makayla Cummings (center field) and Kallee Merrifield (first base); sophomores Alexis Porter (right field), Killyan Richards (pitcher, first base); and freshmen Grace Davis (first base, pitcher) and Ashley Littlefield (pitcher, first base). Davis and Littlefield will swing between the jayvee and varsity.

Bartlett’s key goal is to help the team improve on last year’s performance. On one hand that may be easier with an experienced team but, on the other, the Lions have to face tough opponents in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B division.

“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Bartlett said. “We just want to finish better than we did. I think there is honestly probably 15 teams that could vie for the top 10 spots.”

However, the Lions have a few tricks up their sleeves. For one, the players on the team know each other, which can make for a watertight defense.

“Defensively, we are playing very well this spring and part of that is having a veteran group,” the coach said. “They have played with each other for a long time infield wise.”

Also, the Lions standout pitcher, Overlock is still on board and the team only lost one senior last year, first baseman Caroline Carr.

“All the other girls have been playing the infield together for the last three years so their communication skills, just their kind of sixth sense about where each other are, has been a great thing,” Bartlett said.

The Lions do not look bad at the plate either.

“Offensively, we have the ability, we have got the kids that can put the ball in play and do some nice things,” Bartlett said. “We have got some young girls that made varsity this year that can hit the ball really well as well. So, right now, at this point in time, it is getting the reps and seeing the pitches.”

During the preseason the coach said the team is simply adjusting to batting outside, which can make a difference. However, he thinks that as the season goes along and the student-athletes play in the sun more, things will work out.

“I think hitting will be a strength for us, as well, as the year goes on,” he said.

There are a few things the Lions want to work on, though. Bartlett said he is mainly concerned about the team beating itself by not respecting opponents or giving opponents extra outs.

For example in a preseason game against Gardiner, Belfast was ahead 2-0 in the sixth inning. Then they had a pop-up and a failure to communicate on a slap hit and the Tigers received two extra outs. By the seventh inning, the Lions trailed 3-2 instead of leading 2-1.

“Beating ourselves is the thing we have to make sure we don’t do,” Bartlett said. “Whether it’s making mistakes on the field or maybe not respecting an opponent.”

“One thing I preach to these guys is, especially in the KVAC, anybody can beat anyone on any given night and if you go into a game and you don’t respect that opponent then there is a good chance that they are going to beat you.”

On the other hand, with the senior group, the Lions can grab opportunities that less experienced eyes might miss.

“They are pretty softball savvy,” the coach said. “They see an opportunity to take an extra base or to make a sneak out in there so it’s pretty nice.”

However, the coach does not want to get too confident or make lofty predictions. He said he has had senior-laden teams before that fell victim to injury and crumbled.

“So I don’t like to do any predictions because everything is so unpredictable, especially in high school athletics,” he said.

Village NetMedia Sports Reporter Frederick Freudenberger can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at fritz@villagesoup.com.