Mike Coutts knew there were going to be growing pains this season for the University of Maine softball team.
The Black Bears’ fourth-year coach has 17 freshmen and sophomores along with four seniors on his roster.
Not only did his team play its first 31 games away from home, it has yet to practice on its field. That was expected to occur, weather permitting, on Wednesday.
UMaine (9-22) finally plays its home opener at noon Thursday against Holy Cross in a non-conference doubleheader before hosting defending America East champ Albany for three games this weekend.
UMaine will hold its inaugural Legends Weekend and players from the Black Bears’ 1984 and 1987 ECAC championship teams will be honored.
Due to last week’s snow, UMaine’s home-opening series with Hartford had to be moved to Connecticut, where the Black Bears lost two of three. UMaine is 2-7 and in last place in America East.
“We’re still trying to find our identity. We’ve been playing a lot of people, a lot of freshmen,” said Coutts, who led UMaine to the America East title and a berth in the NCAA tournament during his first season.
He said having his youngest team ever, along with the grueling road schedule and the inability to practice on its field have been among the contributing factors to UMaine’s slow start.
“As I said to the girls, you can’t change the beginning of the story but you can certainly change the end of it,” Coutts said. “We still have a chance to do some good things. We’re (finally) playing at home this week and we could turn things around quickly.”
Some of the 10 freshmen have been impactful already.
Speedy outfielder Brianna Neely leads the conference with 15 stolen bases to go with her .283 average and team-leading 14 runs scored. Outfielder-catcher Keely Clark is batting .309 with three doubles, a home run and five runs batted in.
Shortstop Kelby Drews (.250) has rapped nine doubles and pitcher Emily Reid has logged 64 innings with 40 strikeouts. Second baseman Amanda MacBurnie is hitting a solid .280, Rebecca Findley (.250) has been playing some third base lately and shortstop-designated hitter Grace McGouldrick of Gorham has a homer and eight RBIs while hitting .211.
Senior Laurine German of South Portland has made a smooth transition from shortstop to center field and leads the team in homers (3), triples (4) and RBIs (19) as well as total bases (45), hits (25), slugging percentage (.517) and on-base plus slugging (.861).
Coutts hopes Alyssa Derrick, the former AE Rookie of the Year and second-team all-conference third baseman, who is hitting .220, second baseman Meghan Royle (.222) and catcher-first baseman Maddie Decker (.113) can come alive with the bats during the stretch run of their senior seasons.
“I don’t believe you can win a lot of games if you have to rely on freshmen to do most of the work for you,” said Coutts.
Sophomore outfielder Shanna Scribner, a .102 hitter a year ago, has been a pleasant surprise with a team-best .326 average and four doubles. Sophomore outfielder Hailey Perry of Hermon (.183) has two homers.
In the circle, sophomore Kyleigh O’Donnell is 2-5 with a 3.90 earned run average and Reid (3-9, 5.68 ERA) turned in a five-hit, complete-game victory over Hartford (5-2) on Sunday. Improved sophomore Lilly Volk of Scarborough (4-5) leads the staff in wins to go with a 5.68 ERA.