Due to a front-loaded schedule, the top softball teams in the SMAA will get plenty of challenges in the opening third of the season.
In the preseason, coaches thought Scarborough, Thornton Academy and South Portland — the regular heavyweights — would again be teams to beat with Bonny Eagle and Noble as legitimate top-four caliber teams. All five posted double-digit wins in 2013.
Scarborough, Thornton Academy, Bonny Eagle and South Portland will each play at least three of the other four “contenders” in their first five games. Scarborough gets all four and already has a jump-start on the competition, beating Bonny Eagle in its opener and South Portland on Friday. The defending state champs have shown an impressive top-to-bottom offense that combines contact and power at the plate with speed and assured advancement on the bases.
Noble is off to a 3-0 start behind the pitching of Amber Kelly (three shutouts). The Knights will play the four other teams in a nine-day stretch that concludes May 9.
South Portland has only two seniors and four returning starters. Coach Ralph Aceto said he knows his club will have some growing pains, especially defensively. Starting with Scarborough (13-4 loss on Friday), Thornton (Monday) and Noble doesn’t allow the Red Riots time to ease into the season.
“If we start 1-2, 2-1 in the first three games I’ll be ecstatic,” Aceto said. “We need to get a win out of these three games if only to give some of the underclassmen some confidence.”
Gorham, which did not make the playoffs in 2013, is the outlier in the rotation. The Rams lost to Bonny Eagle in their opener (Allie Pike shut them out) and get Scarborough, Thornton and Noble in their next three.
SCARBOROUGH COACH Tom Griffin likes what he sees from his three seniors, star pitcher Alyssa Williamson, catcher Megan Murrell and first baseman/outfielder Brenna Kent.
“The senior leadership has been tremendous,” Griffin said after the season-opening win. “They’ve really taken the lead on this, saying â€˜Just relax, have some fun, focus and this is how we go about our business.'”
Griffin said this year’s trio has created a relaxed, inclusive environment that befits their personalities.
Murrell said her focus is to help teammates “keep the energy up,” and to not obsess over mistakes.
“If something doesn’t go your way, don’t dwell on it,” Murrell said. “Give yourself five seconds, move on from it and get yourself ready to go make the next play.”
Kennebunk, the No. 1 ranked team in the Press Herald’s baseball preview, has lost its first two games. The Rams played teams expected to be ranked high in the final Western Maine Class B Heal point standings.
Kennebunk lost to Poland 17-7 and to Greely 12-5, last week. The Rams were also missing five starters who were away on a trip during school vacation.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Poland or Greely,” said Kennebunk Coach Brian Dill. “They beat us pretty good. They’re strong teams.”
The Rams were ahead in both games before lack of pitching depth and inexperience took hold.
“When we get everyone back, I’ll think we’ll be pretty good. The good thing is that we play Poland and Greely again. I’m looking forward to those games. We also play Falmouth twice so there will be plenty of Heal points available,” said Dill.
Kennebunk is a Class A team that plays a Class B schedule in the Western Maine Conference. The Rams moved from the SMAA after last season. Dill is getting accustomed to playing in the WMC again.
“I think we’ll be fine. I feel we are a playoff team. What’s good this season is that we’re playing schools similar to our size,” he said.
Kennebunk gets a chance to get back to .500 with home games against York on Wednesday and Lake Region on Friday.
For the first time in school history, Oxford Hills has a varsity tennis team.
Walter Perry, a science teacher who has coached girls’ tennis at Greely and boys’ tennis at Sanford, guided the Oxford Hills girls to a varsity program after seven years of playing a JV schedule.
“We have five wonderful courts right on the premises,” he said. “When I started working here I couldn’t believe they didn’t have a tennis team.”
The opening match, held before last week’s school vacation, was a 5-0 loss to defending Class A state champion Brunswick. Only at No. 2 singles, with Chinese exchange student Zihan Guo facing Brunswick’s Ali Stankiewicz, did the Vikings win a game. It was only one game, in the second set.
“That was a little bit of a shock for my girls,” said Perry, whose team enjoyed its share of junior varsity success against Hebron, Gould and Fryeburg academies. “But they have a great attitude. They definitely want to get better.”
The schedule didn’t get much easier on Monday, when Oxford Hills lost to visiting Hampden Academy 5-0.
“We’re optimistic,” Perry said, “because we know that’s as tough as it’s going to get.”
Oxford Hills travels to Skowhegan Wednesday and to Augusta Friday for a match with Cony. Senior Alyssa deSilva is playing first singles and sophomore Angela Sanders playing third singles.
— Steve Craig, Tom Chard and Glenn Jordan contributed to this report