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Maine softball team optimistic as it embarks on long spring trip

Gabor Degre | BDN file photo
Gabor Degre | BDN file photo
The University of Maine’s EmJ Fogel (right) runs to first base, beating the throw to Husson University’s Nicole Sargent during a game last season. Fogel, who had a team-high .331 batting average last season, will lead the Bears when they begin a 24-game spring trip Friday, March 1, 2013, in Florida.
By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine women’s softball team is looking for improvement upon last season’s 17-30-1 record as it embarks upon its 16-day, 24-game spring trip to Florida.

The Black Bears went 1-3 on their Feb. 8-10 trip to South Carolina but senior first baseman Hilary Kane couldn’t play because of an Achilles tendon injury. Kane will return to the lineup during the trip.

“She’s not 100 percent but we’re glad to have her back at first. She’s a very strong hitter,” said second-year Maine coach Lynn Coutts.

Kane, a co-captain, tied for the team lead in homers (3) and runs batted in (16) last season while hitting .225.

“I’m about at 70 percent,” said Kane, who is looking forward to the trip and to facing some live pitching.

Maine faces Stephen F. Austin State University in Clearwater, Fla. to open the trip at 11 a.m. Friday.

Coutts is optimistic about the season.

“We want to get better every game and if we continue to do the little things right, I can see us winning more games,” said Coutts.

“We’ve improved a lot from the end of last season to the start of this season,” said senior Beth Spoehr, who will head up the pitching staff after the departure of workhorse Ashley Kelley.

Spoehr was 5-9 with a 4.48 earned-run average and eight complete games a year ago while throwing 75 innings. The former America East All-Rookie team choice was 9-12 with a 3.58 two years ago.

Junior Kylie Sparks (4-8, 5.48) is the other veteran while transfers Hannah Hill, a redshirt junior from Fryeburg who appeared in 45 games at Seton Hall University (N.J.), and sophomore Alexis Bogdanovich from South Portland who pitched at Saint Anselm (N.H.) last year.

Bogdanovich was chosen Miss Maine Softball in 2011, two years after Hill won the same prestigious award.

“Beth has a good screwball and is very competitive,” said Coutts. “Hannah throws pretty hard, Kylie has a good changeup and pretty good movement on her pitches and Alexis is a real hardworking kid who is coming along very well. She has good bite at the end on her curve and screwball and we working on improving her speed.”

“They’re all really different pitchers,” said Kane.

Besides Kelley, the other key loss is shortstop Jennifer Eberhardt.

Sophomore Jessica Burk, who hit .248 with two homers and 11 RBIs last season, will be the starting shortstop after playing right field last year. She is an infielder by trade, according to Coutts.

Coutts said her husband and assistant coach Mike Coutts, a former Maine baseball captain and third baseman, has been “working with her on throwing off-balance” when she has to charge a ball or range far to track it down before throwing.

Sophomore Kristen Koslosky, who hit .179 a year ago, hit .533 on the trip to South Carolina and will be the starting second baseman. She stole three bases and wasn’t caught on the trip. She was the America East Player of the Week for that week.

Sophomore Nikki Byron, who filled in for Kane at first in South Carolina, will be the starting third baseman. She hit .163 last season. She also will see time at first.

Junior Jean Stevens, who hit .308 on the trip with the team’s only homer and a team-high six RBIs, will see some time at third and as the designated player. She hit .238 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 2012.

EmJ Fogel returns behind the plate coming off a terrific freshman season in which she led the team with a .331 average and nine doubles. She also drove in 14 runs. She was a first team All-Northeast Region pick and second team America East catcher.

Freshman Makaila Kowalsky gives them a center fielder who can run and chase down balls and the corner outfield positions are interchangeable while junior left fielder Dagmar Ralphs (.284-0-16) continues to recuperate from knee surgery.

“Our goal is to get her back in time for league play,” said Coutts.

Sophomore Stephanie Wood (two at-bats last year), Hill, Sparks and freshman Lydia O’Connor are in the mix along with junior Chelsea Kunin (.176 last year).

South Portland sophomore Katlin Norton hit .333 on the trip after going 1-13 in 2012, and is a versatile utility player who will see time as the designated player.

Senior co-captain Jenny MacDowell (.143 last year) is the backup catcher and freshman Sara Delso is a utility player.

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