Brewer has been one of the state’s top high school softball teams over the last decade.
Coach Skip Estes has guided his eight Witch teams to a 103-30 record and a state Class A championship in 2008.
The Witches reached the Eastern Maine Class A title game two years ago as a seventh seed and lost to eventual state champ Cony of Augusta 1-0.
Brewer was the top seed last season with a 15-1 regular-season record but was upset by eventual Eastern Maine titlist Skowhegan 5-2 in the semis.
But Estes is facing quite a challenge this season and, at this point, there are a lot more questions than answers.
“This is the youngest team I have ever coached,” said Estes. “But it is a lot of fun. They’re sponges. They want to learn, and they want to succeed.
“Most years, we’ll graduate 4-5 players, and we’ll reload. But we will be rebuilding this year,” he stressed. “We have some very good young players, so the upside is we’ll have them a few more years.”
Estes also said “if we do make the playoffs, we could be dangerous.”
Estes’ Brewer teams have never missed the playoffs, and he feels this team will improve dramatically over the course of the season.
The Witches return just three starters off last year’s 16-2 team, but one of them, .400-hitting junior second baseman Delaney Davis, has suffered a season-ending knee injury that will require surgery.
That will leave Brewer with just junior center fielder Maddy Bailey and sophomore catcher Samantha Pellegrino as the only returning starters.
The Witches have only four players with noteworthy varsity experience as senior Kayla Williams saw limited time as an outfielder or first baseman, and senior Mackenzie McCurdy was a reserve infielder.
Brewer’s two starting pitchers, Alexa Grindle and Chelsea King, have departed, so the Witches will have to depend on a pair of sophomores to produce in the pitching circle: Meg Davis and Ally Chapman.
“They have looked good so far,” said Estes. He pointed out that he has had only one sophomore serve as his ace pitcher: Melanie Judkins.
Judkins pitched the Witches to the state title in 2008.
Estes said Davis and Chapman aren’t overpowering, but the team has a good selection of off-speed pitchers, so they will have to locate their pitches well.
“They’re going to have to live off the corners,” said Estes.
Williams and junior Brooke Richards will vie for the first base job vacated by all-conference selection Morgan Small. Sophomore Meg Davis, who saw pinch-running duty in the playoffs, is one of several candidates for the second base job that includes Chapman, sophomore Mallory Bubar and junior Meghan Nile.
McCurdy has the inside track on the shortstop job with Bubar and Nile being other possibilities.
They will be trying to replace all-conference shortstop Lindsay Houp.
Freshmen Alexis Getchell and Anna Chute are the contenders for the third base position, although Pellegrino could also see some duty there. Chute would probably move behind the plate if Pellegrino is at third.
The departed Cassie Harvey had been a stalwart at third.
Bailey will be the leader in the outfield with juniors Cassy Green and Emily Tarr, Williams and Nile being the candidates to flank her in left and right.
Power-hitting right fielder Emily Gilmore, one of last year’s RBI leaders, transferred to Bangor.
Bailey will supply a quality lead-off hitter who can run. Bailey hit close to .400 a year ago, Estes said. Pellegrino will hit in the middle of the order and provide him with power and a run-producer.
Estes also looks for Getchell, Chute, Chapman and Richards to be key contributors offensively.
Estes will be assisted by Dee Davis and Butch Grindle with his daughter, Sarah Estes, directing the junior varsity team along with Bill Birch and Rob Gilmore. Former Witch pitcher Emily Cox will work with the pitchers. Tim Crowell, an assistant for several years, has been sidelined for the season after surgery.