It’s not difficult to pinpoint the favorite in the North Atlantic Conference softball tournament, which begins this morning at Husson University’s O’Keefe Field.
The host Eagles earned home field advantage as the top seed, went 14-0 in conference play, and come into the tourney opener having won six of their last seven games.
Still, head coach Amanda Davey’s Eagles are anything but overconfident. Last year, they were also the top seed, but lost the first game to fourth-seeded University of Maine-Farmington and were eliminated by eventual champ Lesley College on the second day.
“If we play the way we have been all season, I don’t see us having a problem,” said Davey. “But all four of these teams are here for a reason and you can’t take any game for granted.”
The four-team field includes 23-14 Husson, No. 2 Thomas College of Waterville (13-16-1), No. 3 UMF (15-11) and No. 4 Castleton State (14-17). Husson will take on Castleton at 10 a.m. and the UMF-Thomas game follows at noon. An elimination game between the two losing team is at 2 p.m. and the winners play at 4 p.m.
Thirteen of Husson’s 15 players are freshmen or sophomores, but six players with starting experience returned.
Husson sophomore pitcher and staff ace Nicole Sargent (11-4, 4.41 ERA) said last year’s tournament was a good lesson for the team.
“You can’t expect anything’s going to be easy,” said Sargent, who is also the team’s third-leading hitter with a .330 average, five home runs, and 21 RBIs. “I think the difference between last year and this year is last year, we had a lot of expectations to be a great team, but this year, we’re really young and have a lot of new start-ers, so there wasn’t as much pressure.
“We started off 6-0 [in the NAC] and really started believing in ourselves. We just have a lot of confidence.”
The Eagles sport a team batting average of .320, but opponents are batting .282 against a pitching staff with a 4.78 ERA.
“Well, that’s a bit off only because we played some real tough teams in Florida to start our season,” said Davey, now in her third season. “In the conference, we’re at or near the top in most categories.”
The Eagles lead the NAC in hitting (.322) and are No. 2 in ERA at 3.54 (UMF leads at 3.21).
Ironically, one of the keys to Husson’s success is the consistent way they adapt and adjust to inconsistency.
“Our team strengths vary every game,” Davey said. “I think we do a nice job of playing to them, whatever they happen to be. We pick up on whatever the weakness happens to be and adjust accordingly. Right now, we’re playing the short game and running the bases very well.
“Our main focus this weekend is to play our game, which is the short game.”
Davey said her squad also communicates well, on the field and the basepaths, and features pitching depth with Sargent, Megan Richard (6-4, 4.34 ERA) and Caitlin LeBorgne (5-6, 5.93).
“All the teams have pretty decent pitching,” she said. “But I think one of our advantages is other teams have one solid pitcher and we have three.”
Thomas pitcher Jordan Kennedy leads the NAC with a 4-4 record and UMF’s Mckell Barnes is tops with a .526 batting average to go with nine homers and 31 RBIs.