BREWER, Maine — Coach Harold “Skip” Estes has seen his team reach the Eastern Maine Class A softball championship for the last two years, and he finds this year’s Witches more focused on getting over that hump and reaching the state final in June.
“The kids who have been on the last two [teams] really want to get back there and win one,” Estes said. “Being that focused really helps.”
And he hopes that desire on the part of his players translates into a higher seed this time after going in as the No. 7 and having to face the top three teams.
“We’d like to host a playoff game this year instead of go on the road,” Estes said.
It’s ironic that the Witches had to hit the road because their home, Coffin Field, was being used by other playoff teams.
“A lot of times I’ve left and watched a playoff game before I got on the bus,” he said.
This year’s team has started strong, winning its first two games handily before edging rival Bangor 9-6 on Wednesday.
“This week we play Bangor and Skowhegan. They’re a little tougher competition, so we’ll see where we are at that time,” he said Tuesday.
And he is encouraged by his team’s play.
“Right now, our overall depth is pretty good,” Estes said. “Our hitting is very good and I have two returning senior pitchers this year who are pitching pretty good, and got some key young kids which are in starting roles this year, so we’re kind of like half-and-half — half old and half young.”
Estes thought hitting might be a challenge for the Witches because they graduated some strong hitters, but that hasn’t been the case.
“I have four new kids in the lineup hitting and they’ve really impressed me with the way they’re getting base hits.
Senior Lindsay Houp is batting leadoff for the third year, senior Alexa Grindle is a good contact hitter at No. 2, senior Morgan Small has been moved up to No. 3 and freshman Emily Gilmore is hitting cleanup.
“Then if they want to pitch around my [Nos.] 3 and 4, I’ve got Cassie Harvey sitting right there at 5 who can really hit the ball, too,” Estes said. “So, it’s kind of a hard lineup to get through.”
Sophomore Delaney Davis is another contact hitter at No. 6, senior Chelsea King has power at No. 7, and senior Haley Bickford is No. 8.
“And I’ve got Maddy Bailey, one of our better hitters, at No. 9, and she’s doing very well. They’re pretty deep,” Estes said.
Sydney Birch, Mackenzie McCurdy, Samantha Pellegrino and Kayla Williams round out the roster.
All of that offense helps his pitchers.
“The offense takes a lot of pressure off the pitching when they’re doing that well,” he said. “I think we’re averaging 10 runs a game in the first two innings of the game.”
Grindle and King are the primary pitchers with Davis as the No. 3.
“One throws hard and one throws [with] a lot of movement on the ball. They’re a great combination. When hitters start getting on one, I switch the other one in,” Estes said.
That’s the way they handled preseason games, but now they’re alternating starts.
“I like pitchers with more control, that can hit the corners and stuff. That’s the way the kids are brought up [in his youth clinics],” Estes said. “Some pitching coaches look at speed only and that’s not what I’m looking for.”
He is hoping to get the same defensive performance that the Witches gave him last year.
“Last year, that stretch that we won nine of the last 10 [regular-season] games we played, we only had four errors as a team. They played very, very well.”
That strong finish appears to Estes to have carried over to this spring.
“The first two or three practices, it felt like we had just finished last year and started right back up again. All of our practices have been very crisp,” he said.
“The kids right now are on fire [with confidence],” Estes added.