ORONO, Maine — Two weeks ago, they returned from their respective spring trips to Florida.
On Saturday afternoon, the softball teams from Husson University of Bangor and Brandeis University of Waltham, Mass., finally got back on the field.
Temperatures were in the low 50s with no wind and the FieldTurf was free of snow and ice. It wasn’t a perfect scenario — inside the University of Maine’s Mahaney Dome — but it enabled the teams to play ball.
Brandeis won the opener 9-4, before Husson came back to take the nightcap 6-2 in a nonconference doubleheader.
Despite dealing with some unique ground rules involving balls hit off the ceiling of the pressurized inflatable dome, Saturday’s twinbill made it possible for the teams to get in two games.
“Our field is literally under water right now, so we’re pretty grateful that UMaine let us come in here and play these games,” said Husson sophomore Lyndsay Merrill of Bethel, who posted four hits, including two doubles, and two RBIs in the second game.
“We’re very happy that we could get some in,” she added.
Brandeis was playing regulation games at an indoor facility for the third time in the last two seasons. The Judges’ first four games of 2014 were contested at the Hampshire Dome in Milford, N.H.
“It’s better than nothing and the worst-case scenario is losing the ability to play the game,” Judges coach Jessica Johnson said of the UMaine venue. “We’ll play anyone, anywhere, at any time.”
Husson is no stranger to indoor training as it has been practicing all season at the Sluggers indoor facility in Brewer. Its own facility, O’Keefe Field, is still in the process of thawing and drying.
Both coaches said the two-week layoff after playing in Florida was taking a toll on the players.
“For us to get in good competition before we start (conference play) next week was really important,” said first-year Husson coach Kristie Hawkins, “and for the fact that the kids are getting kind of stir crazy, tired of being indoors every day and only seeing each other.”
Playing inside the dome presented a few challenges, including subpar lighting that is directed up and off the white ceiling. Numerous balls ricocheted off the ceiling, most of them in foul territory.
“There’s a pretty lengthy discussion at home plate (with the umpires), as opposed to when you’re outside,” Hawkins said with a laugh.
There were ground-rule doubles that resulted from balls that got into nooks and crannies from which they could not be easily played. Fly balls that reached the walls in the outfield were in play if they struck in the lower portion, but were ruled home runs if they hit above the blue-colored plastic.
Batted balls that hit the ceiling in fair territory were automatically ruled outs.
“If it’s high enough to hit that ceiling, chances are it’s a pretty significantly high fly ball where we could get a fielder under it,” Hawkins said.
Perhaps most importantly, the unique dynamics of the dome and the altered ground rules did not have a significant impact on the outcome.
“There were quirks both ways,” Johnson said. “We hope that the facility doesn’t make the determination (of the winner) and I don’t think it did.”
In the second game, Merrill stroked two doubles and two singles with two RBIs to spark a 13-hit assault that carried Husson to victory.
Merrill, who has been hobbled by leg injuries, stroked run-scoring singles in the fifth and sixth innings to help Husson establish a more comfortable lead.
Amanda Ryan of Brewer spaced seven hits with three strikeouts and a walk to earn the pitching win.
“You practice and practice and practice, so you kind of get antsy,” she said. “It’s just nice to get out and be able to play.”
Casey Lopes provided an RBI double and a single while Kayla Merrill contributed two singles for Husson. Haley Spiers added an RBI single.
Cori Coleman was the offensive catalyst for Brandeis with a solo home run and an RBI single. Reliever Nikki Cote took the loss.
“It was very important to be able to come up here and play in the dome,” said Coleman, who said Brandeis played last season in a New York dome where balls hit off the ceiling were live. “We had some good momentum coming out of Florida and that was two weeks ago. It’s nice to get back and start playing.”
In the opener, Coleman belted a three-run homer, a double and a single and scored three times to propel the Judges. Her leadoff double ignited a four-run fourth inning that turned a one-run deficit into a 7-3 advantage.
Melissa Nolan pitched five innings of three-hit, shutout relief to pick up the win. Anya Kamber plated four runs with a double and two singles and Cote singled three times.
Losing pitcher Kayla Merrill lined a two-run triple, Haley Spiers hit a run-scoring double and Allie Hill of Calais added an RBI single for Husson.
Both teams look forward to getting back outside.
“It’s been a pretty frustrating winter,” Hawkins said. “Hopefully, with (Sunday’s) freezing rain, it’s not as bad as they’re anticipating and we can maybe get some warmth so that we can get outside sooner than later.”