SEARSPORT, Maine — Mel Grant had intended to help out with the Searsport High School baseball team.
But when Searsport High athletic director James McGinn had trouble finding someone to replace Thor Gower as the girls softball coach, he asked Grant if he’d be interested.
Grant was already the coach of the girls basketball team, so he took the position.
Unfortunately for Grant, he inherited a team with nine freshmen, two sophomores and one junior and the Vikings opened the season against 2011 Eastern Maine Class B champion Bucksport, which dropped to Class C for the first time this season, and defending state Class D champion Deer Isle-Stonington.
Bucksport dealt the youthful Vikings a 19-0 loss over 4½ innings.
Despite the loss, Grant was upbeat about his new coaching job.
“I’m excited about it,” said the 38-year-old Grant. “I’ve been enjoying it. I know a lot of the girls well through basketball, so it has been an easy transition.”
Grant has an extensive baseball background and has been coaching his 13-year-old son, Barrett, as he makes his way through the Waldo County youth and all-stars program.
He was a former standout at Searsport High School and also had some impressive seasons with the Brewer Falcons American Legion team.
He has realistic goals. He knows what he’s up against.
“The level of experience these girls have is very low,” explained Grant. “With some of the teams we play, their girls have been playing softball since they were 8 or 9 years old. Our girls have to play Little League baseball. There’s no Little League softball. There isn’t anything to get them ready for this.”
He will be patient with his team as he experiments with lineups and works on the fundamentals.
“We’re hoping to play seven innings. It’ll be frustrating to play only four or five,” said Grant, referring to the mercy rule.
If a team leads by at least 12 runs, the game can be stopped after 4½ innings.
His team needs experience, and the more innings they can play, the more experience they’ll receive.
He knows his team will be hard-pressed to be competitive against the likes of the Bucksports and Deer Isle-Stoningtons of the world, but he is hoping to mold the Vikings into a competitive unit against the other teams on his schedule.
He knows he has nowhere to go but up as the Vikings went 0-16 a year ago and are 5-43 over the past three seasons.
Grant has six players who were on his basketball team: sophomores Alicen Walker and Briana Grant (his daughter) and freshmen Rochelle Stone, Alivia Cross, Brittany Ward and Brianna Boyle.
The other players are Gwen Higgins, Hannah McKinney, Kelsey MacMillan, Patience Hustus, Jaci Harriman and Erica Harriman.
He said it will be a challenge “since I’ve always been involved in baseball,” but he hopes the team will show steady improvement.
Bangor has youth, experience
Bangor High School softball coach Don Stanhope isn’t talking in terms of wins and losses with a revamped lineup this season.
“We’re focusing on the daily process rather than the outcome,” said Stanhope. “Everybody is figuring out their roles. We’re going to be subbing more than we ever have.”
His pitching staff will be comprised of a sophomore, his daughter Lexi Stanhope, and freshmen Cordelia Stewart and Emily Reilly.
Three of the four players who were All-Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A selections have graduated: first team shortstop Kim Jordan and catcher Sadie Redman and second team designated hitter Hannah Lust.
Taylor Lewis, the ace of the staff, also has graduated.
But Lexi Stanhope earned some valuable experience last season, and All-KVAC first team outfielder Kristen Henigan headlines a solid group of returnees.
Henigan actually will be moving from right field to first base.
Henigan and left fielder June Candland, who is also a senior, hit over .300 a year ago, according to Stanhope, and both can also hit for power.
Henigan and Candland are two of the five returning starters along with senior center fielder Jade Baumrind, whom he considers one of the best defensive outfielders in the state; senior second baseman Meghan Hope and senior third baseman Kami Prendergast.
Hope played first base last year but is making the move to second.
Senior Annie Guare, who got some playing time a year ago, and sophomore Anna Morris will handle the catching.
Senior Hanna Colpritt, who saw duty at second and third, will be the shortstop; speedy senior Cailee Mercier will play right field and junior Carly Cosgrove will be the designated hitter.
Juniors Jodi Fahey and Casey Modery are versatile multiposition players.
Stanhope said his team has good speed and will be “really aggressive on the bases.”
Lexi Stanhope, Guare and Baumrind are effective “lefty slap-hitters,” according to Don Stanhope.
Stanhope has guided the Rams to a 44-11 record and an Eastern Maine Class A title (2010) over the past three seasons.
Bangor went 11-6 a year ago.
He feels his team is solid defensively and said he has faith in his three young pitchers, who each bring something different to the table.
“They’re all students of the game. They’re very smart and they want to learn,” said Stanhope. “Lexi is more of a spin pitcher with a lot of offspeed stuff; Cordelia throws hard and Kim has some spin and can also throw hard.”
Bangor opened with an 8-1 win over Mt. Blue of Farmington on Wednesday.