ORONO — Hermon’s Ashley Kelley had a frustrating 2011 season for the University of Maine’s softball team.
After going 10-5 with a 2.91 ERA in 2010 and being named to the America East second team, the pitcher was plagued by a sore shoulder last spring and finished with a 4-14 record and a 3.91 ERA. She allowed 160 hits in 111 innings.
Her shoulder is better, she has a new head coach in Lynn Coutts and she is eager to get started Friday when Maine visits Tampa to play in the University of South Florida Tournament. One of their four opponents will be 2011 NCAA runnerup Florida.
“Things are great,” said Kelley. “I feel a lot better. My shoulder isn’t completely healed but it’s not as painful. I’ve gotten a lot more involved in the emotional and mental side of the game.
“Last year, I didn’t have the focus I needed. I wasn’t ready when I went into games and it showed because I struggled out there. And my shoulder didn’t help,” added Kelley.
Coutts feels her senior righthander will have a bounce-back year.
“She has a new sense of confidence,” said Coutts, who has been working with Kelley on her changeup to complement her rise-ball, screwball, drop and curve.
“Her drop and her curve are very good,” said Coutts.
“My changeup is looking a lot better. You need to change speeds because if you just throw hard, the hitters will eventually time it up,” said Kelley.
Sophomore righthander Kylie Sparks (5-5, 2 saves, 3.67 ERA), who will join Kelley and junior Beth Spoehr (9-12, 3.58) in the rotation, said having two former standout pitchers on the coaching staff in Coutts and Maureen Barron has been extremely beneficial.
“I’m so happy with everything they’ve been doing. I feel like I’ve improved so much already in just a few short months.” said Sparks, who possesses an outstanding changeup. “Both coaches see different things and that helps us in different ways.”
Junior first baseman Hilary Kane expects their pitching staff to be formidable.
“I feel real strong about our pitching. And we have options,” said Kane, who has enjoyed the new coaching staff, which also includes Kevin Welch.
“We’re all excited about the way things are going,” said Kane, who hit .200 a year ago and will look to elevate her average this season. “People are excited to show up to practice and to play.”
Senior Brynne Davis (.219) from Winslow and freshman Kristen Koslosky will see time at second base although Coutts said Koslosky may also get time in the outfield.
“She’s very quick and very athletic,” said Coutts.
Senior shortstop Jennifer Eberhardt, who was the team’s third-leading hitter (.329-6 homers-24 RBIs) behind departed Terren Hall (.361-9-41) and Kali Burnham (.355-2-19) will anchor the infield.
“She’s a great player who loves to play the game,” said Coutts.
Senior Margaret Hilton (.233) will play third with freshman Nikki Byron also likely to see time.
Sophomore Dagmar Ralphs (.148) will play left field and senior Lindsey Jenkins (.195) will be in center. Sophomore Chelsea Kunin (1-for-11 last year) will be in right although Sparks (.286) and freshman Jessica Burk may also see service.
Burk could also play in the infield.
Coutts has plenty of options behind the plate with impressive and versatile freshman EmJ Fogel vying with sophomore Jean Stevens (.185), South Portland freshman Katlin Norton and junior Jenny MacDowell (.162).
Stevens, Burk and freshman Danielle Sullivan are among the designated hitter candidates. Freshman speedster Stephanie Wood will pinch-run and get some at-bats.
Coutts indicated she also would like to get some swings for Kelley.
Bucksport junior Emily Lenor is a reserve outfielder.
Coutts is stressing aggressive base-running and offensive fundamentals such as bunting and moving runners along.
“We’re looking for more of a team effort. Instead of relying on one person hitting a home run, we want everyone getting base hits, getting bunts down, moving runners and scoring runs,” said Sparks.