The seniors on the University of Maine softball team have never experienced America East playoff action firsthand.
Barring a monumental collapse, they will in their final season.
With a 7-2 conference record and nine games left, the Bears are primed for their first playoff appearance since 2006. This weekend’s three-game set with 21-19 University of Maryland Baltimore County (2-7 in AE play) doesn’t loom as one of the AE’s premier matchups this week, but it’s a big one to head coach Deb Smith.
“This is actually our most important series out of the last three just because they are a team not in contention,” Smith explained. “To me, these are the games where we really have to win two out of three at the very least because we want to avoid must-win situations against Stony Brook and B.U. [Boston University].”
The Black Bears play a doubleheader against the Retrievers at noon Saturday on Kessock Field and finish up with a 1 p.m. game Sunday.
“We’d really like to be able to solidify our spot before the last weekend,” said Smith. “We’ve taken care of the teams in conference that we needed to. We have the heavy hitters on our schedule at the tail end of the season.”
Speaking of heavy hitters, senior second baseman and pitcher Alexis Souhlaris (.405 average) has rewritten the record books this season. The former outfielder is now the career leader at UMaine in runs, hits and stolen bases.
“Lex has really had an unbelievable career with us.,” said Smith. “This year she’s just taken it another level. She’s so multifaceted. She’s been a pitcher and outfielder for us, and now she’s at second base, but her offense has remained consistent.”
The Bears are No. 2 in America East and 73rd among NCAA Division I teams with a .288 batting average.
Maine is 8-2 in its last 10 games.
“I think the big thing is when we came back from Florida and played Bryant, we had to regroup after dropping a game we shouldn’t have lost,” Smith said. “We really put a ton of focus on defense and getting our pitchers to be more aggressive and going after hitters.”
Smith said if the team remains consistent and plays to its potential these last three weeks, Maine could secure one of the top two seedings.
“I honestly would put us No. 2. I think we can go in as the No. 2 seed,” she said. “We just need to keep playing consistent defense and improving in a couple areas.
“We’re hitting the clutch, but we need to create more opportunities. I’d like to see my 7-8-9 hitters be a bit more productive.”