After an impressive career coaching baseball at the college and high school levels, Mike Coutts waded into softball last year as an assistant coach at the University of Maine for his wife, Lynn.
Last weekend, he found himself filling in for his wife as the head coach after she was hospitalized for three days with pneumonia.
And the Black Bears took two of three from Hartford in a mutual America East-opening series: losing the first game 2-0 before winning 10-0 in five innings and 12-9.
“It was just another day,” said Mike Coutts, the former longtime Black Bear baseball assistant coach under Hall-of-Famer John Winkin. “The hardest thing was [handling] the pitching because that’s Lynn’s job. I just hoped the women did their jobs and I didn’t have to make too many pitching changes.”
He is more comfortable coaching the women this season.
“I’ve learned the game of softball. There are a lot of similarities between baseball and softball but there are also a lot of differences,” said Coutts. “This year I have a better grasp and understanding about how the game is played. I had never been a big fan of bunting and squeezing but we have to do that. I’ve had to incorporate that into my offensive philosophy. I know it has to be part of the game.”
He also noted that since the field is much smaller than a baseball field, “everything is done so much quicker. The ball is on you quicker.”
He said the bottom line is the same in both sports.
“You have to respect the players and be honest with them. If you do that, you can expect that in return,” said Coutts.
“Mike was in shock last year. He wasn’t used to losing,” said Lynn Coutts, referring to the team’s 8-39 record. “Last year he learned about coaching women. They know he cares about them. He communicates well with them and they respect him.”
Maine has already exceeded its win total of a year ago as the Black Bears will take a 10-9 record into a three-game set at UMass Lowell this weekend. It was supposed to be played at Maine but Maine’s field is unplayable.
One of the keys to their success has been the play of their freshmen.
Third baseman Shelby Obert from Skowhegan, shortstop Felicia Lennon, center fielder Samantha Ralphs, catcher Rachel Harvey and first baseman Maddie Moore went a combined 7-for-20 with 10 runs batted and six runs scored in the Sunday win over Hartford.
“Even though they’re freshmen, they’re very experienced softball players who have faced a lot of good competition. They have really been a spark for us,” said Lynn Coutts.
One of the most satisfying aspects of the weekend series was the fact Maine battled back from a 6-2 deficit in the third game against a pitcher, Zuzana Kudernatschov, who had three-hit the Bears 2-0 in the opener with 10 strikeouts. Maine reached her for eight hits and six runs in 4 ⅓ innings on Sunday and she struck out just three.
“We changed our approach. We put the ball in play more. We hit the ball on the ground and some of them got through the infield,” Mike Coutts said. “We can make adjustments this year. We couldn’t last year. That’s because we have better players this year. They have more fight in them.”