It took ingenuity, hard work and perseverance.
But thanks to a collaborative effort, the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s softball team played its first home games in four years last weekend. The Owls also will host Thomas College of Waterville this weekend for an important four-game North Atlantic Conference set.
Saturday’s contests were the Owls’ first home games in 1,455 days. They were made possible by converting the soccer field at the Gehrig Johnson Athletic Complex, located next to Presque Isle Middle School, into a softball field.
The Owls swept Saturday and Sunday doubleheaders against Northern Vermont University-Lyndon to run their program-record winning streak to 12 games.
The Johnson Athletic Complex has an artificial turf surface, which second-year UMPI head coach Alissa Edwards said the team had used occasionally to field ground balls and fly balls and get in a workout when their dirt/grass field wasn’t playable.
Edwards measured the field and discovered that they could actually fit a softball diamond in it. She talked to UMPI executive director of athletics and recreation Dan Kane about it a week ago and they set the project in motion.
“We used hurdles and an old snow fence for the outfield fence. The wind blew it down, but we put it back up and weighted it down,” she said.
They created a temporary backstop and dugouts with materials that they culled from the old UMPI baseball field.
Edwards said the Owls put their portable rubber and pitching circle on the field and located a portable home plate in a spot where they could use the soccer end lines as foul lines.
“It was awesome. It took a lot of time and effort but it turned out really well,” Edwards said.
Kane played a major role in the project, which involved collaboration among multiple departments and individuals on campus, including the players.
“UMPI and Presque Isle is a special place where everyone works together for the betterment of their community and is always willing to go above and beyond to support one another,” said Kane, who thanked everyone for their participation.
The student-athletes were especially appreciative of the opportunity to play some home games.
“It was very special getting to share this past weekend with my teammates and coach. So many people helped us make those games happen,” said senior captain Melanee Terry of Moreno Valley, California. “I am so blessed to be part of the UMPI athletic department and the great people involved.”
UMPI has a 13-7 record, including a 12-4 conference mark. All four losses came against first-place Husson University in Bangor. The Owls dealt Husson (23-1, 16-0 NAC) its only loss in a nonconference game.
The 25-year-old Edwards, a Nebraska native who played softball at UMPI before a knee injury ended her career, said the key to her team’s success has been its leadership.
“We have a ton of upperclassmen. We set a goal and we’re grateful we’ve been able to have the opportunity to play this season. We’re having fun. We all love the game,” she said.
Their leading hitters are senior first baseman Terry (.540 average, 12 doubles, 24 runs batted in, 21 runs scored), senior catcher Delanie Strout of Greene (.500, 10 doubles, 15 RBI, 25 runs) and junior shortstop Jordan Hansen from Nebraska (.463, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 13 stolen bases, 27 runs). Other top performers are Florida freshman right fielder Delaney Anfinson (.407, 16 RBI) and Seattle senior center fielder Marissa Valdivia (.365, 7 stolen bases).
Senior Brookelynn Garcia of California is the ace of the pitching staff with her 5-1 record and 1.44 earned run average. Valdivia and Abbot freshman Olivia Riitano have four victories each.
Thomas goes into the 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday doubleheaders with a 7-7 record (7-5 NAC).
UMPI or Thomas will advance to play Husson in a best-of-three series to decide the NAC East Division champion. That winner will face the West Division champ for the NAC overall title and an NCAA Division III Championship tournament berth.