ORONO, Maine — Life in the fast lane didn’t last very long for the University of Maine softball team.
Just a day after jumping into the winners’ bracket and a leg up in the America East Conference tournament, the Black Bears found themselves out of the tourney following a 5-1 loss to top seed Boston University Friday morning and a 1-0 loss to Stony Brook University in the afternoon.
The second-seeded Bears, who wind up their season 23-28, got a solid pitching outing from Cayleigh Montano, who allowed just three hits and no runs in five innings in the elimination game vs. SBU, but couldn’t find any offensive spark.
“Offense was pretty scarce today,” said Maine coach Deb Smith. “We couldn’t get it done offensively. We didn’t get the energy going we needed to.”
Montano pitched 10ª total innings Friday. She gave up five runs (three earned) and five hits vs. BU in the first game at Kessock Field.
In between Maine’s games, No. 3 Stony Brook eliminated No. 4 University at Albany 1-0.
In the second elimination game, the Seawolves threatened to plate the first run of the game with runners in scoring position for three of the previous four innings before finally pushing the only run across in the sixth.
Conversely, Maine stranded just three runners all game and only one of them was in scoring position.
“We got out of a lot of pickles, but when our offense wasn’t pulling through, I think we started pressing a little,” said second baseman Alexis Souhlaris. “The ball didn’t have any eyes today and wasn’t getting through for us. When it did, we couldn’t seem to put a couple hits together.”
Maine’s only scoring threat came in the fifth, after Kirstin Allen laced a 1-2 fastball to dead center for a one-out double. She went to third on a groundout, but a strikeout stranded her there.
Seawolves ace pitcher Alyssa Struzenberg, who Maine beat 5-1 Thursday, kept Maine off balance.
“I don’t know that is was more what she did as opposed to what we didn’t do,” said Smith. “I think we were a little less aggressive than I wanted and took a few more pitches.”
Struzenberg (22-10), who threw 52 of her 80 pitches for strikes, pitched a three-hitter while walking one batter and striking out three.
“She was much better hitting the corners today and did a better job working ahead, plus she had great gas today. She threw hard,” said Stony Brook coach Megan Bryant. “She came out more confident today. We had to have a gut check yesterday after losing, but I think she answered the bell well.”
After Montano made like Houdini and escaped jams in the second inning (bases loaded with two outs), the fourth (runners at the corners with one out), and the fifth (one-out double), she was relieved by Beth Spoehr.
Spoehr gave up a leadoff single to Shannon O’Shea in the sixth but the Bears cut down the lead runner at second on a fielder’s choice grounder. It looked like Maine would pull another escape act when Spoehr retired the next batter on a come-backer to her, but Katelyn O’Donnell ripped a 2-2 pitch down the first-base line for an RBI single.
“We’re the best defensive team in the conference, I feel,” said Bryant. “We’re not the juggernaut offense we’ve been the last couple years, so we’ve had to manufacture runs, which are harder to come by.”
In the Friday morning game, Cassidy Hardy (19-7) didn’t dominate Maine’s lineup as the Bears got eight hits. However, aside from a solo homer by Souhlaris, who wound up with four hits in seven at-bats on the day, in the third inning, she kept them out of scoring position. Only two of Maine’s seven runners left on base were in scoring position.
Hardy had seven strikeouts and no walks.