BIDDEFORD — On the back of an explosive offense, the Biddeford Junior League softball team rampaged through Maine competition this summer to the tune of a perfect 15-0 record and an average winning margin of well over 10 runs a game, including 9-4 and 19-4 wins over a Windham/Raymond side two weeks ago to win a second-consecutive state title.

The competition, however, is about to get a whole lot tougher.

The Tigers leave today for West Haven, Conn., and the Junior League Eastern Regional, a 10-team, double elimination tournament featuring state champions from New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions.

With better competition will come closer games, something that Biddeford coach Ray Magnant said has a him little apprehensive considering the way his team has rolled through the opposition so far the summer.

“We don’t know what to expect and I don’t know how the girls will react when it comes to a close game,” Magnant said. “I think we’ll be fine even in a tight game, but it’s true we haven’t been in many close games.”

Biddeford made the same trip to West Haven last year, going 2-2, and this year returned just three players ”“ Amber Magnant, Kaitlin Miniutti and Aibhlin O’Connor (CF) ”“ from that squad.

The team did pick up seven players who were a part of Biddeford’s 11 and 12-year old district championship winning team a summer ago, and two newcomers with important roles to play, No. 1 pitcher Katie Stewart and catcher Brook Davis, said far from being nervous, they couldn’t wait to get to Connecticut.

“It’s a good experience,” Davis said. “I’d never won a state title before and I can’t wait to represent the state of Maine in Connecticut.”

“It’s definitely really exciting because you get to play against different states and better competitors,” added Stewart. “A lot of people usually crack under this kind of pressure. I think we can handle it.”

While both teams won state titles, Magnant said this year’s team is different from last year’s squad, which was led more by pitching.

“Last year I had two stud pitches in Abbie Paquette and Kirsten Lebreux,” Magnant said. “They threw a lot harder than my pitchers I have now. The three pitchers I have now do very well, they move the ball around and they throw good change ups.

“This is a better hitting team than I had last year. Our whole team can hit and I think we can keep up with anyone down there hitting. Talent wise this is just as good as last year’s team.”

No player has exemplified that offensive talent more than Davis, who has knocked at least one home run in every one of the team’s games.

“A lot of people call her a freak, I’m going to call her a beast,” Magnant said. “When she goes up we expect a home run every time because that’s how hard she hits the ball.”

Davis has been so devastating at the plate that many teams have started to pitch around her, putting her on first base rather than giving her a chance to go deep.

“It’s very frustrating. You always want to go up there and hit,” Davis said. “You don’t want to be walked most the time because my favorite part about is about softball is I like to hit. But if I have to take a walk for my team I’ll take a walk.

“I wouldn’t think that they’d know me down there so hopefully I can take advantage and help my team out as much as I can.”

When teams do pitch to Davis, they pay, as Raymond found out in the state finals, when Davis hit a pair of home runs in Tigers’ second-game rout.

“When she comes up and hits a home run, we know we might have only that one chance so we want to get runners on. Because as soon as they see her hit a home run, they won’t pitch to her,” said Magnant. “She’s a phenomenal hitter.”

In addition to her work at the plate, Magnant also had high-praise for Davis at the all-important catcher position, where she’s kept the past balls to a minimum and all but shut down other team’s running games.

“She leads the way behind the plate. Our pitchers are struggling, she knows when to call a time out and go talk to them,” said Magnant, who is also the head varsity coach at Massabesic High School.

“She’s a great leader. I love having her on the team. I think she could skip eighth grade next year and play varsity, that’s how good she is.”

Like the make up of the Biddeford team, the Eastern Regional will take a different shape this year as well, switching from a pool play format to a straight-double elimination tournament.

The five teams from the Mid-Atlantic and five from the New England states will be split into their own separates tournaments, with the winners facing each other in a title game next Thursday for the right to go to the Junior Softball World Series in Kirkland, Wash.

The switch puts plenty of impetus on the first game to avoid falling into the loser’s bracket, and Magnant said he was mixed feelings about the change in format.

“I kind of like it and I kind of don’t,” he said. “Last year you knew you were going down for a week, now you lose two and you’re gone. I know the girls want to spend a lot of time and enjoy it so they’ll have to work for it now.

“The first game is huge. That’s the game we need to get.”

The Tigers won’t learn their first-round foe until a blind draw on Friday night, with the first round of match ups scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

The other state champions who will be at regionals field hail from Mystic, Conn., West Shore, N.Y., West Point, Penn., Mount Pleasant, R.I., Perryville, Md., West Cumberland, N.J., Worcester, Mass., Millsboro, Del., along with the hosts from Orange, Conn.

Biddeford team members include Jordan Boucher, Alex Chase, Davis, Lillie Donovan, Chantel Gagnon, Ailaina Keeley, Amber Magnant, Melody Michaud, Miniutti, O’Connor and Stewart.

— Staff Writer Cameron Dunbar can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 323.



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