The 2017 University of Maine softball season had an unfortunate ending for junior pitcher Annie Kennedy.
Just before the America East tournament Kennedy, a relief pitcher who had the team’s best earned run average, and senior catcher Rachel Harvey were suspended for violating the student-athlete code of conduct.
It stemmed from an altercation at the Orono House of Pizza for which Harvey and her father, William Harvey, and later Kennedy, were charged with assault and disorderly conduct. The charges eventually were dismissed as Kennedy said she performed 50 hours of community at the Bangor Humane Society.
The Black Bears still reached the conference championship game but Albany topped UMaine 6-1 to win the title. Erin Bogdanovich and Molly Flowers wound up pitching all but 1 1/3 innings in five playoff games over four days.
Kennedy said this week she let her coaches and teammates down.
“It was a great learning experience,” Kennedy said. “I’ve grown up a lot. I’ve moved on from it.”
She is well on her way to atonement this season.
Kennedy is the ace of the staff, sporting a 6-4 record with three saves and a 1.58 earned run average. She has struck out 57 and walked 10 in 79 2/3 innings.
Kennedy has allowed 86 hits, but only 16 for extra bases. Opponents are hitting .266 against her.
The Black Bears are 14-16 overall (5-2 in America East) after Wednesday’s doubleheader split against UMass Lowell at Kessock Field in Orono.
Kennedy used last year’s disappointment as motivation.
“It made me stronger. It challenged me to stay positive and work through hard times,” Kennedy said.
“I have a different mindset this year and it has helped a lot. I’m working every day to get better,” Kennedy added.
UMaine coach Mike Coutts said Kennedy has demonstrated a renewed focus and maturity this year.
“She was devastated last year. She felt real bad about it,” Coutts said. “It was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and things happening that you don’t have any control over.
“When you’re confronted with adversity you have two choices: Get better or get bitter and make things worse.”
Kennedy said her summer training regimen has been a key component in her success on the field.
“I ran five miles a day. I lost a little bit of weight. It helped my confidence,” Kennedy said.
She said she dedicated herself to working on her pitching mechanics.
“I worked on my spin. I broke down my pitches. It wasn’t fun at times but it has made a huge difference in my curveball. I’ve been able to get it to break a couple more inches,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy also has refined her screwball and has two kinds of drops.
“She finally understands the importance of locating pitches,” Coutts said. “You don’t have to throw strikes to get people out. Hitters can be the dumbest players. They’ll swing at anything.”
Kennedy has taken on a more prominent role this season. Former America East Pitcher of the Year and two-time all-conference selection Erin Bogdanovich was forced to hang up her cleats due to a back injury and senior Flowers had control problems.
“She wants to be our No. 1 pitcher. She has embraced it,” Coutts said.
Kennedy, who was 5-3 with a 4.05 ERA last season and has nine career saves, said she loves the challenge of being the ace.
“I attack the [strike] zone. If you’re going to get on base, you’re going to have to earn it,” Kennedy said. “If you get a base hit, I’ll tip my hat to you. I’m not giving you a free pass.”
She has struck out 145 in 266 career innings but has walked only 31.
“Because she doesn’t walk people, you know you’re always going to get a quality start from her,” Coutts said. “She gets a lot of ground-ball outs. She keeps the ball down.”
Coutts said Kennedy, a finance major from Sound Beach, New York, also is an outstanding fielder and popular among her teammates.
“One of the reasons she has made a great commitment to herself and her teammates is because she knows this is the end,” Coutts said.
“She is a great teammate. She will do anything we need,” senior first baseman Kristen Niland said.
“She has had a great four years and she’s not done yet,” junior catcher Maddie Decker said.
Freshman pitcher Kyleigh O’Donnell said Kennedy has “taught me a lot. She has been a real role model for me and the other pitchers.”
“Being my senior year, I want to make the most of it because I don’t see myself pitching in the future. Every pitch is important. Every out is important,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy wants to help UMaine win the league tournament and earn an NCAA tournament berth for the second time in three seasons.
“We are a very gritty group. We’re going to be a tough team to beat once we’re all on the same page,” Kennedy said.
BDN writer Callie Ferguson contributed to this report
Follow BDN Maine Sports on Facebook for the latest in Maine high school and college sports.