ORONO, Maine — Two days before the America East Tournament began, University of Maine softball coach Deb Smith outlined what she wanted to see, and what she thought she’d see from her team.
Thursday afternoon, she looked like a psychic as her Black Bears got big hits from players Smith predicted were due to break out soon, sustained hits up and down the lineup for a big inning, got stellar defense, and another solid pitching effort from Cayleigh Montano.
Those things all added up to a five-run inning and a 5-1 victory over No. 3 Stony Brook University for the No. 2 Bears, who will take on top seed Boston University at 11 a.m. today. BU edged No. 4 Albany 2-0 in Thursday’s early game at Kessock Field.
“Everything’s meshing. We had great defense and great offense and we feed off each other, energy-wise,” said Montano, who scattered six hits over five innings and allowed the only run to improve her record to 4-2.
Montano, who wasn’t even in the regular rotation a little more than a month ago, is suddenly the go-to pitcher for the Bears, who are now 23-26 overall.
“Cayleigh’s the hot hand right now and the team is playing extremely well behind her,” Smith said. “Our defense is starting to look really good and consistent.”
Maine third baseman Terren Hall of Bucksport made the play of the day, stabbing a low line drive scorched off the bat of SBU’s Bernadette Tenuto down the line in the third to rob Tenuto of an extra-base hit.
“That was a big-time play at third because if that gets through, that gives them some momentum and they’re a team that thrives on momentum,” said Smith.
Maine then seized momentum for good with a five-run third.
Leadoff hitter Alexis Souhlaris sparked things as usual with a one-out single after a six-pitch at-bat. She stole second and scored on Whitney Spangler’s double to dead center. Hall scored Spangler with a wall-ball double to center, and then scored on Kristen Calvetti’s two-run homer over the fence in the same spot.
“It was inside, level and a little high,” said Calvetti, who walked in her first at-bat.
Calvetti is the brunt of jokes from Smith about her free-swinging mentality.
“She jokes that there’s not a pitch out there that I don’t like and it’s kind of true, especially in big games, but when I have walks, I have my best days.”
The homer chased SBU starter Alyssa Struzenberg, but Maine would get a walk, a single, and a Margaret Hilton RBI single off reliever Casey Jacobs before the third out.
Meanwhile, Montano and relief pitcher Beth Spoehr kept the Seawolves guessing.
“My changeup was pretty good and we were just moving around and dancing around to make sure we kept them off balance,” said Montano. “[Catcher] Steph [George] called a great game. She knows me well.”
Head coach Megan Bryant, whose Seawolves are now 29-20-1, said Maine’s hitting approach was what she wanted to see more of from her team.
“We didn’t make adjustments we needed to,” Bryant said. “They have good hitters in their lineup and they swung the bats. We had probably just three or four good at-bats the whole game.”
Albany (20-22) 000 000 0 — 0 1 1
Boston U. (32-19) 000 200 x — 2 9 1
Powell and Smith; Hardy and Rentler