The University of Maine’s women’s softball team has a 13-day layoff between games after finishing up its 8-19 spring trip schedule and beginning its America East-opening three-game series at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County next Saturday.
And a quick look at the statistics shows what coach Deb Smith is working on with her players: hitting.
The Black Bears hit just .207 on their spring trip and struck out 151 times.
”The biggest surprise of the trip was how poorly we hit,” said Smith. “We got frustrated and lost our confidence. We have to focus on redeveloping our confidence again.”
She said the number of strikeouts “shocked us”.
“They would get themselves in a two-strike hole and go after pitchers that weren’t close to hittable,” added Smith. “We had some girls struggling big-time. They were really struggling to make contact.”
Just three regulars hit over .200: third baseman Terren Hall (.351-6 homers-22 RBIs), left fielder Kali Burnham (.314-2-7) and shortstop Jennifer Eberhardt (.291-3-9).
Eberhardt is the leadoff hitter, Burnham hits second and Hall is in the third spot in the order.
“Eberhardt has proven to be a pretty nice little leadoff hitter,” said Smith. “She hasn’t been blessed with a lot of speed, but she’s very aggressive on the bases.”
Burnham has been “one of our most consistent hitters.
“She can hit to all fields and she’s a very good two-strike hitter. She has great bat control and is one of our best bunters,” said Smith.
Hall continues to bring “a ton of power and she’s great in clutch situations.”
But Smith admitted that if she doesn’t find someone who can be productive behind Hall in the four spot, opposing pitchers are likely to pitch around Hall.
She does expect the hitting to rebound.
“I believe we have the players players who will be able to make some significant improvements,” said Smith.
As a result of the struggles at the plate, Smith still doesn’t have a set lineup.
Jenny MacDowell, Jean Stevens and Jillian Benson are still vying for the catching job; Brynne Davis and Margaret Hilton are the second base candidates; Hilary Kane and Kirstin Allen are the first base potentials; Lindsey Jenkins, Cassie Hodgson and Dagmar Ralphs are involved in the battle for outfield slots along with Hilton.
Freshman Meghan McLain from Orrington and Brewer High School showed some potential according to Smith, but offseason shoulder surgery has prevented her from playing in the field. She has been used as a designated player. Another freshman, Kylie Sparks, has also had some quality at-bats.
Defensively, the Black Bears have been “very good when we don’t lose our composure. We’re pretty solid on the left side of the diamond.”
Maine has committed 39 errors so far.
The pitching has also had its problems, but Smith feels the fact they have had trouble scoring runs reduces the pitchers’ margin of error so “the pitchers have been putting extra pressure on themselves.”
Junior ace Ashley Kelley from Hermon is 3-9 with a 4.24 earned-run average; sophomore Beth Spoehr is 3-6 with a 5.13 ERA and freshman Sparks is 2-4 with a 3.83 ERA.
Smith said her primary concern is the fact her pitchers have allowed 244 hits in 174 2/3 innings.
“Once they relax a little bit, I think you’ll see them improve,” said Smith.