It was with a loss that the Biddeford Little League softball team made its mark in the 9-10 year old Eastern Regional tournament earlier this month. For a team that hadn’t yet lost entering the tournament, the initial defeat set the stage for a story of redemption of validation.

Biddeford made easy work of both the District 4 and Maine state tournaments, going a combined 11-0 to qualify for the Eastern Regional tournament in West Pittston, Pennsylvania. That seemingly effortless success carried over to fundraising for the impending trip to Pennsylvania, as the girls raised more than $20,000 to cover expenses, doing everything from car washes to bottle drives to whatever needed to be done in order to make the trip a reality.

Then the team arrived in West Pittston, and in their very first game – the opening game of the entire tournament – they lost, falling to Rhode Island 8-1.

“I want to say it was a little surprising, because we didn’t know what our makeup was. We went through districts, we went through states undefeated. So I was definitely concerned about how our girls would react after a loss,” said manager Andy Donovan. “At the end of their first loss, they didn’t really know how to respond to it. And you know what, I didn’t know how they would respond.”

Feeling defeat after only knowing success did nothing to dampen the players’ spirits. Quite the opposite, actually.

In its second game Biddeford exploded offensively in an 18-7 victory over Vermont, then won again in its next game, a 4-1 win over Massachusetts. “I guess I was a little surprised to see that they came back, we scored 18 runs in that very next game, and proceeded to score more runs in pool play than any other team down there,” said Donovan. “I’m very happy with the reaction, and the girls kind of showed a lot of character to fight back and not just lay down and take it. Very proud of them.”

Those two wins advanced Biddeford out of New England pool play and into the elimination phase of the tournament. Donovan said it felt like his team was “kind of playing with house money at that point,” as only the three games of pool play was guaranteed and after the opening defeat he and the players didn’t know what to expect.

But along the way, Biddeford broke down some barriers – at least barriers that other teams didn’t think the Maine state champions could overcome.

“When we got down there, a lot of the states, when they saw that they drew Maine, in pool play or whatever it may be, they were like ‘oh good, we got Maine, that’s an easy one,’” said Donovan. “So when we went down there and beat a few teams to send them home it was kind of a good feeling.”

Biddeford reached the end of the road in its quest for the regional championship in its next game, however, as it succumbed to Delaware, 7-1, in the tournament semifinals. That was followed by a 9-1 loss to New York in the consolation game.

Still it was a welcome two games for Donovan and his players.

“To get our week extended another four days, to be down there for the festivities, the semifinals was just great,” said Donovan. “Wish we could have performed a little bit better, wish we could have really stood up to some of those tougher teams from the south, but it just wasn’t meant to be for this team.”

Biddeford’s strength was its battery, as ace pitcher Charlotte Donovan recorded more than 100 strikeouts across the three postseason tournaments, and catcher Laura Perreault was behind the plate for every, single one, as she caught every, single inning.

But, as Donovan pointed out, that combination only gets you so far. Biddeford made it to the regional semifinals because of its willing versatility around its talented battery.

“We always push with our local program, we tell our girls not to say that they are a particular position. We say ‘you know what, call yourself a softball player. Tell any given coach on any given team that you can play anywhere at any time.’ That’s been our formula, and that proved to be very valuable for us moving through the 15 to 20 games that we played, having girls be able to play different positions at different times,” said Donovan. “That’s what made this team good.”

Donovan said that willingness to do anything for the team stems from the team’s willingness to do anything for the sport. He said this was the most dedicated group he’s seen in the 11 years he’s been a part of Biddeford Little League.

It’s a dedication that Donovan said should serve Biddeford well in state competition, and hopefully help raise the state’s stock in softball on a regional basis.

“I’m excited about it,” Donovan said of Biddeford softball’s future. “I think this puts us back in contention with where southern Maine softball should be.”

— Sports Staff Writer Wil Kramlich can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 323 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @WilTalkSports.

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