A few weeks before their respective regular-season openers, many high school spring sports teams competed in a handful of preseason games or matches.

Those exhibition contests marked the end of a months-long scheduling process that had coaches and athletic directors weighing potential opponents and locations.

“(We start) in the middle of winter (season),” Skowhegan athletic director Brian Jones said. “Around December and January. I know the (Tuesday) game we have in softball against Gardiner, I know (Gardiner athletic director) Nate (Stubbert) and he and I talked back in December about that potential scrimmage. It’s a long ways off, but in the middle of the winter season, you’re planning for the spring. When we start regular season (games) in the spring, we’ll be planning field hockey round-robins and soccer scrimmages. A lot of people don’t realize, they begin in the middle of the previous season. We’re always one season ahead. Now that we’re in spring season, I’m thinking fall.”

The Maine Principals’ Association allows high school spring sports teams five days in the preseason to compete in exhibitions. Teams are allowed to play multiple games/matches on any of those days. For example, it’s common for lacrosse teams to host round-robin “play days,” in which participants will play a handful of games. Baseball and softball teams will also play doubleheaders.

“Schools are limited to five dates in the preseason, all sports,” said longtime South Portland High School athletic director Todd Livingston, who is also a member of the MPA baseball committee. “It was back in (2008) when the economy crashed and (school) budgets got frozen. They were looking for costs savings, and something that came out of that was the five non-countables.”

Some central Maine coaches say they will schedule as many contests as they can.


“We’ve loaded up for preseason,” said Gardiner softball coach Ryan Gero, whose team won the Class B title last spring. “We’ve actually probably taken up too many games in a short amount of time, but we want to get rolling. We start with Brunswick, then go to Skowhegan. After that, it’s going to be against Winthrop and Kents Hill, which will probably be more of my (junior varsity) squad getting the time in there; our starters may play an inning or two… Then we head to Bangor and play a round-robin with Bangor and Old Town and that will finish up our preseason. We went and tried to find the better teams we could to play.”

Gardiner softball players say they crave the busy preseason.

“The more the better, I think,” Gardiner pitcher Raylee Gilbert said. “The more we play, the more we connect, the more we realize who needs to go where (in the lineup). I think we’re lucky to have that many.”

“I think five is good,” added Gardiner pitcher Lainey Cooley. “I think five is really good, especially with the teams we’re playing. It gives us time to move around and figure out what’s best (for the lineup).”

There are a lot of factors that go into scheduling preseason contests, coaches and athletic directors say. Many prefer to play teams outside their conferences, while others try to find the toughest competition possible. Many coaches, particularly the veteran ones, handle the bulk of the preseason scheduling.

Skowhegan pitcher Lilly Noyes challenges Gardiner hitter Corrine Vasvary during softball action at Skowhegan High School in Skowhegan, Maine on Tuesday April 11, 2023. (Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel) Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“(Scheduling) is just me reaching out to coaches and trying to load up our preseason schedule and make it as difficult as possible,” longtime Messalonskee boys lacrosse coach  Tom Sheridan said. “We’re a little more established than teams in the area around here, so we wanted to get on the field and play against someone who’s going to push us, to see us make mistakes on film and see things we need to work on. We do have a lot of guys back from last year, but we also have some new faces out there, some young kids. We’re trying to get them some reps against people who have played a lot of lacrosse.”


Messalonskee — which finished 13-2 and reached the Class B semifinals last season — participated in an April 1 play day with Falmouth High School, a strong Class A program. Falmouth head coach Dave Barton said the Eagles were invited because of their success on a state-wide level.

“The logic behind it is really getting the best teams we can in the first week of the year,” Barton said. “Bringing Messo down, I think Coach Sheridan’s awesome. We had some common opponents, and knowing some of the guys they brought back, Bryce (Crowell), Walter (Fegel), some of those guys, we were like, ‘what a great opportunity to showcase them, too.’ It really comes from a place of ‘let’s play the best we can over the next couple weeks.'”

Jones, the Skowhegan AD, added that competing against non-conference opponents is ideal.

“You’re also looking for scrimmages that are out of conference,” Jones said. “For baseball, we play a Class A North schedule, so we’re playing Winslow and Lawrence, who we don’t see during the regular season… You’re trying to balance all three variables: The competitive, where can we go, and who are we playing out of conference so we don’t tip our hand a little bit in the regular season? There’s a lot to it. A lot of people don’t realize there’s a lot of variables that go into booking those and thinking about those games and competitions.”

Established coaches, such as Sheridan and Lawrence baseball coach Rusty Mercier, often take the lead in scheduling preseason games.

“Rusty is perfectly comfortable getting his own games,” said Lawrence athletic director David Packard, who is also a member of the MPA softball committee. “The other (coaches) would rather have me find them. We do what we can to find games. Then we worry about fields (and other variables) after.”


The Bulldogs based their preseason on the hope of playable fields. Lawrence of Fairfield will travel about 118 miles to North Berwick on Saturday to play an exhibition against Noble High School. The Skowhegan softball team also has an exhibition game at Portland on its schedule.

“Non of my spring sports want to be in the gym, practicing an hour here and an hour there,” Jones said. “To get that simulated game experience, they want to get out as much as possible before the regular season gets going. To do that, unfortunately, for us geographically, we need to travel for those preseason games. That’s just the way it is. We only have one, of all the preseason games we’re playing, one of them for baseball is indoors and the one against Gardiner (softball) next week. I think our softball field will be ready by the end of the week. Baseball isn’t as far along.”

Skowhegan’s Annabelle Morris rounds third base and heads for home during a preseason game against Gardiner on Tuesday in Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Playable fields in early April is also part of the equation for may schools. While many lacrosse programs can get on artificial turf surfaces in central Maine — Messalonskee, Cony and Gardiner all have turf fields — it’s more of a challenge for baseball and softball squads.

“It really comes down to scheduling three or four games and hopefully playing one or two of them,” Maranacook baseball coach Eric Brown said. “We’re playing this Friday night at Kents Hill (which plays on turf), we should be able to get that in as long as the weather cooperates. We’re playing Cony on Tuesday; their field is in decent shape.”

“Spring is just a waiting game,” Packard said. “Baseball and softball, you’re still at Mother Nature’s whims and what she wants to do.”

Many athletic directors said they budget for long preseason bus trips.

“I don’t limit it,” said Packard, the Lawrence AD. “In trying to get teams we don’t play during the regular season for preseason games, we have to travel a little bit out of the way for that. We try to keep it reasonable, especially during school (days). But on a Saturday or a Sunday, or a day there is no regular classes, we’ll try to send them to a different place. It’s good for them to see other parts of the state, too.”

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