Young Mariners eager for NAC tournament

Posted April 28, 2010, at 9:54 p.m.

It’s difficult to imagine a team sporting a 20-5 record getting lost in the shuffle, but that’s what Maine Maritime Academy’s softball team has done this season.

Then again, when a 14-3 conference record is still only good enough to be second behind a Husson University team that’s gone unbeaten in conference play two straight years, it’s understandable.

Still, you won’t hear the Mariners from Castine lamenting their situation. Rather, coach Katrina Dagan’s crew is eager for another crack at top-seeded Husson University as the North Atlantic Conference tournament commences at Husson’s O’Keefe Field Friday.

“I think it’s a benefit to my team right now not to be in the limelight and not have that pressure on us,” said Dagan. “We’re very young in a lot of key positions.”

Number two seeding or not, the Mariners have little to complain about this season with two of the NAC’s top three pitchers and the conference’s third-leading hitter.

Freshman phenomenon Casey McCloskey of Howland has enjoyed smooth sailing in her first season, cruising to a 10-2 record with a miniscule 1.78 ERA while logging 74ª innings. The Penobscot Valley High School product has allowed 55 hits and 33 walks while striking out 73 batters.

Classmate McKenzie Burke has gone 8-3 over 14 games with a 3.54 ERA. The former Wells High standout has had 50 strikeouts to go with 101 hits and just nine walks in 83 innings.

“They have gone above and beyond what we expected, but we did have high expectations for them,” Dagan said. “I think our pitching has been huge for us. The two of them have come through in the clutch for us time and time again.”

It’s no surprise the Mariners are the NAC’s top pitching team with a 2.71 ERA.

Despite having four freshman starters, two in the circle and another in a key position of catcher (Leah Jackson of Dedham) as well as first base (Sabrina Keach of Chesterville), the Mariners have shown a knack for executing in tight situations: pulling out victories with four last-at-bat, seventh-inning rallies this season.

Leading that clutch offense is Burke, who’s batting .463 with six home runs and 27 RBIs. Jackson is the team’s second-leading hitter at .338 with two homers and 16 RBIs. Sophomore shortstop Kayla Higgins, a converted catcher from Sullivan, is hitting .333 with five homers and 27 RBIs.

“Our strength is our offense. The kids love to hit and they’re good at it,” Dagan said.

Maine Maritime is the NAC’s No. 2 team offensively with a .328 average and 19 homers.

Impressive numbers aside, Dagan knows the most important number is the one next to her team’s name under the runs column. With a young, inexperienced club that has lost both games against Husson (14-6 and 7-2), Dagan says the key is how loose and confident her team plays.

“We can only play better the next time around,” she said. “Statistically, we match up with anyone else. We’ve talked about this saying if we can defend, we can win.”

Keneborus gets triples record

Todd Keneborus of Hollis Center has broken the Saint Joseph’s College career triples record after hitting his 13th of the season and 19th overall.

The junior outfielder, who got his historic hit April 24 against Norwich University, leads the Monks of Standish in batting average (.462), at-bats (130), runs (46), hits (60), doubles (14), triples (13), RBIs (57), slugging percentage (.862) and on-base percentage (.517) through Sunday.

UMFK names top athletes

University of Maine-Fort Kent student-athletes Barrington Blake and Amber Garrison have been named the 2009-2010 male and female athletes of the year.

Garrison was a Sunrise Conference volleyball first-team selection after lading the Bengals to second place. She also started as a point guard for the basketball team and led the Bengals to the conference title and its fifth trip to the NAIA Division II National Tournament in the last seven years.

Blake became the school’s third NAIA All-American when he was named to the third team, the NAIA Academic All-American team, and the Sunrise Conference first team.

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