It’s all the talk of Zone III as teams – nine of them – make the transition from high school baseball to American Legion’s summertime season.

“I’ve been doing this for five years now, and this is easily the deepest field of teams I’ve seen,” Gray coach Aaron Talon said.

No kidding.

Brunswick and Northern Oxford County join the fray to make nine teams in Zone III, up from seven a year ago. Brunswick will draw solely from Brunswick High School, and will also accept players from Durham. But with Brunswick’s tradition, drawing from just one school shouldn’t be much of an issue.

Northern Oxford, meanwhile, returns to action in American Legion baseball for the first time in seven years. Drawing from Mountain Valley and Dirigo High Schools, there won’t likely be any growing pains for this squad. Both schools had solid seasons in their respective divisions this spring.

“What I told them, though, is that every team in Legion ball is like an all-star team,” Northern Oxford coach Ryan Palmer.

These teams add to an already tightening zone.

Talon coaches at Gray-New Gloucester High School in the spring, and eight players from Windham have joined Talon’s Legion squad this season, in addition to the depth he had returning from his high school team.

“The hardest issue we’re going to have is trying to find a place for everyone to play every night,” Talon said.

Gilman Electric of Mechanic Falls draws its players from Poland and Lake Region. Poland was the top team in the Western Maine Conference this spring.

New Auburn, which has been to the state tournament in each of the last two seasons, returns five college players, adds one from Class C state champion St. Dom’s, and draws from baseball-proud Edward Little’s program, too.

“Our goal is certainly to get back there a third time,” New Auburn’s new coach Bob Blackman said. Blackman coached this year’s Class C champion Saints. His son, Brady, pitched at the University of Southern Maine, and returns as a 19-year-old.

Gayton Post 31, which includes players from Lewiston and Lisbon high schools and St. Dom’s, will also continue to improve this season. Lewiston surprised some in Eastern Class A by winning its first playoff game since 1989. Add to the mix two of Lisbon’s top players and two of the Saints’ Class C state champs, not to mention an up-and-coming soon-to-be-freshman catcher, and Gayton will turn some heads this summer, too.

“We have so much depth in the league, and also so many unknowns with the new teams,” Gayton coach Todd Cifelli said. “Based on the roster we have, I hop we can peak into the playoffs.”

Bessey Motors of Oxford Hills will be back in the mix after a rare down year last year that saw the team develop many younger players for a solid run this season.

If there are any teams that may be a bit down this season, it might be Andy Valley and Smith-Tobey. Andy Valley has the talent, and decent depth, but with just two players at 19-years-old, their year may be next year. Still, with top-end pitching talent from Livermore Falls, Jay, Buckfield and Leavitt Area high schools, Andy Valley continues to add depth to the zone.

Smith-Tobey was the biggest off-season victim in the expansion. The post used to draw from Brunswick High School, but with the split, it draws only from Mt. Ararat and Morse high schools. And there is just one player from Morse this season.

“Last year, we won the zone and went 21-1,” Smith-Tobey coach Bob Neron said. “That’s not going to happen this year. There’s a lot more parity in the league this year.”

One other switch to the league this season is how the Zone III tournament will happen. The regular-season champion will receive a bye – into the state tournament. The eight remaining teams will playoff to decide the zone’s second representative.

The season officially started last Saturday, with three nine-inning games completed. The season continues tonight, and runs all summer. The Zone III tournament is scheduled for July 27-29, and the state tournament will run from Aug. 4-8.

American Legion Zone III at a glance

Teams: 9

New teams: 2 (Northern Oxford County, Brunswick)

Defending champion: Smith-Tobey

Season: June 16-July 23

Zone tournament: July 27-29

State Tournament: August 4-8

Quick hits: Defending champion Smith-Tobey is a bit down this season after graduating several players … The overall depth of the zone is high, much higher than in recent years … Northern Oxford County and Brunswick, the two new teams, likely won’t wait long to make an impact.

Impact players: Justin Staires, Northern Oxford; Brady Blackman, New Auburn; Steve May, Smith-Tobey; Josh Clark, Brunswick; Eddie West, Gayton; Matt Verrier, Bessey Motors; Jake Marceau, Andy Valley; Joe Douglass, Gilman Electric; Josh Sundquist, Gray.

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