ORONO, Maine — University of Maine softball ace Ashley Kelley had a forgettable junior season and wanted to have a bounceback year this season.
She has and righthander Kelley and the fourth-seeded Black Bears are going into Thursday’s double-elimination America East Conference Tournament with confidence as they take on top seed Boston University at 1 p.m. at the BU softball field.
Maine is 17-28-1 overall and finished 8-9-1 in the conference. BU is 37-14 and 15-3, respectively.
No. 2 Stony Brook (35-16-1, 14-3-1) will take on No. 3 Albany (34-12, 13-5) at 3:30 p.m.
Maine lost all three games to BU during the regular season but one was a 2-1, 12-inning setback and another was a recent 5-3 loss in which Maine took a 2-1 lead into the sixth.
“We’ve played really close games with them. We know we can beat them. We’re looking forward to facing them,” said Kelley.
Kelley has allowed just four runs and 13 hits in 17⅔ innings against the Terriers this season.
The Hermon native, who was hampered by a sore shoulder last year and went 4-14 with a 3.91 earned run average, was named to the America East second team this season as she was in 2010 when she was 10-5 with a 2.91 ERA.
She is 8-11 with a 2.77 ERA this season and has three wins and four no-decisions in her last seven starts.
“She has pitched very well,” said Maine first-year coach Lynn Coutts. “Her spins have been great. She really competes and she has a great attitude.”
“My confidence has been better. You need to have confidence in all of your pitches and I didn’t have it last year. It didn’t help me,” said Kelley. “My catcher [freshman EmJ Fogel] calls a great game and I’ve been able to keep the ball down and away from the hitters. I’ve been getting them to ground out.”
She got nine ground-ball outs in her 5⅔-inning stint against BU on May 1.
“I’ve done better than I thought I would,” said Kelley, who gets massages and does a lot of stretching to keep her shoulder feeling “a lot better” than last year.
She throws a variety of pitches and they all have movement.
“She has really stepped it up this year,” said senior second baseman Brynne Davis. “You couldn’t ask her to throw any better. The movement on her ball is unbelievable.”
Fogel said Kelley’s drop-curve is particularly difficult to hit.
“It’s a dirty pitch,” said Fogel. “It drops down and away [from righthanded hitters]. It’s really effective. I like to call it.”
She said she and Kelley are “pretty much on the same page” and they communicate very well.
“There’s a lot of trust [between us],” said Fogel.
Fogel is Maine’s leading hitter at .333 and she also leads the team in hits (45) and runs scored (21).
“I’ve had a good season but I’m not done yet,” said Fogel. “I’m excited about the tournament. We’re peaking at a good time.”