Opposing baseball coaches are calling Londonderry High School the team to beat in Division I this season, but the Lancers know how meaningless being the favorite can be.
Londonderry was the No. 1 seed for last year's Division I tournament, but No. 11 Exeter upset the Lancers, 3-2, in the Division I championship game.
"In terms of how people look at us ... we were the No. 1 team last year and look what happened," Londonderry coach Brent Demas said. "I think the returning players on this team are drawing a lot of motivation from last year. The sour experience of last year is sticking with these guys and it's driving them."
There are plenty of familiar names on the Londonderry roster. The Lancers returned two of the best pitchers in the state - left-hander Rob Del Signore and right-hander Tom Corey - and six starting position players from the 2013 team.
"The bullseye is on Londonderry," Alvirne coach Mike Lee said. "They're definitely the team to chase. Head and shoulders above the rest."
Del Signore, who will play for Division II Southern New Hampshire University next season, was 6-0 with two saves and a 0.81 ERA last spring. Corey, who is headed to Division II Franklin Pierce, was 6-3 with one save and a 1.07 ERA a year ago.
Del Signore will be at first base when he's not on the mound. He hit .384 with a team-high 21 RBIs last season. The other returning starters are catcher Colby Joncas (.367), second baseman Mike Ryan (.343), third baseman Jeff Kayo (.293), center fielder Zach Tavano (.286) and right fielder Brett Evangelista (.300). Evangelista led the team with 21 stolen bases last spring.
"We do have a lot coming back, and we played well last year," Demas said. "Experience is the strength of the team. We also have some young kids who are showing a lot of potential and they're learning from a great group of guys. We're going to be really competitive."
Portsmouth has won five of the last six Division II titles, but may not posses the dominant pitching it's had in recent years. Pitcher Rick Holt, who helped Portsmouth beat Goffstown in last year's Division II championship game, is now playing football at the University of New Hampshire.
Goffstown coach Adam Lawrence said Windham, which lost to Portsmouth in last year's semifinals, is the preseason favorite. Windham's Adam Dolan, a Division II All-State selection last year, will be among the top pitchers in the division this spring.
Goffstown junior Tanner Putnam will also be one of the best pitchers in Division II. Putnam pitched a complete game when Goffstown beat Sanborn of Kingston in last year's semifinals.
"Windham will be good because they were young last season," Lawrence said. "Portsmouth will be near the top because it's the Portsmouth program. I think Souhegan is another team that could be pretty good."
Souhegan of Amherst competed in Florida for four days (April 2-5) in preparation for the season.
Campbell of Litchfield and Monadnock Regional of Swanzey each return two all-state players from a year ago and figure to be the top teams in Division III.
Campbell will build around pitcher Connor Sahlin and shortstop Christian Bourgea. Sahlin was the Division III Player of the Year in 2013. Monadnock returns pitcher Ben Mallet and center fielder Cam Bath.
Bow, Stevens of Claremont and Pelham are among the other strong teams in the division.
Pittsfield looks like it will have a chance to repeat as the Division IV champion. The Panthers return their top three pitchers from a year ago: Kris Perkins (7-1, 0.79 ERA), Chris Farr (5-0, 1.97 ERA) and Jed Eastman (2-2, 2.33 ERA). Those three recorded eight shutouts last season.
"They're big strikeout pitchers," Pittsfield coach Rob Stockman said. "I really feel like I may have three of the top six pitchers in Division IV. It's a nice luxury to have."