Iris Ireland is 11 and has been playing softball for three years, but in relative terms, she is a grizzled travel softball veteran. Still, a question about how her season is going elicits a very enthusiastic response from the soon-to-be sixth-grader.

“This has been my most favorite year of softball,” she said.

Ireland and her fellow Capital Mainiacs are in Stratford, Connecticut, through Sunday to play in the Amateur Softball Association 10U Class A Eastern Territory Championship. First pitch for the Mainiacs comes at 10 a.m. against OFC Heat.

The team consists of 13 players ages 8-11 from Augusta, Chelsea, Hallowell, Rome, Waterville, Whitefield and Winthrop representing the Capital Area Youth Softball Association.

The Mainiacs have been playing together since indoor practices in January and rolled through their tournament schedule winning six of seven championship games.

“At the beginning of the year, I really didn’t think we’d be amazing,” Ireland said. “I guess I thought we’d be good. I didn’t know this good.”

Ireland, a first baseman and team co-captain with Chelsea catcher Sammy Thornton, belted eight home runs in one of those tournaments, but the Mainiacs order is strong top to bottom, according to coach Tim Soule.

“Our offense is tough. We don’t rely on one batter. We’ve got some young girls in the lineup but everyone puts together tough at-bats,”said Soule, whose two daughters, Emma and Zoe, are on the team.

“Our younger girls, across the board, have been coming up big,” he said.

The Mainiacs also have what Soule calls a “double-barreled” pitching staff, with Morgan Wills and Raylee Gilbert, both of whom throw mid- to high-40s and can shut down an opponent.

“They’re 1A and 1B, and they dominate the majority of our innings,” Soule said.

Rita Benoit also helps out in the circle and plays second base.

The Mainiacs were runner-up at states last year but survived a tight 6-5 game that went to tiebreaker innings against Skowhegan, then had a little easier 8-1 win over Skowhegan again en route to the state title.

The tournament in Stratford features 10 teams competing in pool and bracket play. The Mainiacs’ pool includes teams from Ohio, New York and Massachusetts. Soule knows the level of competition will be higher than his team, seven of which are 10 years old, have become accustomed to so far. Some of the opponents play year-round. But he’s confident the Mainiacs, who avenged two of their three losses later in the same tournament, won’t go down without a fight.

“Only one team down there is going to end their season with a win,” he said. “For some of these girls, this is the last time they’ll play together, so I’ve asked them to think about how they want to go out.”

“They love playing with each other. They have faith in each other. They’re summer sisters,” he added. “They don’t want to let each other down.

Other team members are: Lily Platt, Tanley Tibbetts, Sage Fortin, Mackenzie Toner, Brianna Madore and Jessica Hendsbee.

• • •

Hall-Dale’s 11-12-year-olds have already made history. They are one win away from making it to Connecticut.

Hall-Dale Little League plays for the state title at 4 p.m. today against Biddeford in Waldoboro. The winner advances to the New England regional in Bristol, Conn., starting Aug. 10.

“As far as I know, this is the first time in 40 years or so of Hall-Dale Little League that an 11-12 team has gone to the state tournament,” said coach Ben Lucas, who noted Hall-Dale did have a 9-10-year-old team reached states in 2006.

Hall-Dale’s all-stars won the Disitrict 5 tournament by vanquishing Dixfield and Lewiston. They overcame Bangor West, Bar Harbor and, on Tuesday, Westbrook to get to the state final against Biddeford, which is also carrying an unblemished tournament record into the final,

“We’ve got a couple of top pitchers and we’ve got a lot of depth in our pitching,” Lucas said. “Our defense has been lights out, and these kids can put the ball in play, too.”

Akira Warren, who earned the victory on the mound in the 12-2 triumph over Westbrook, and Logan Dupont, who will get the ball on Thursday, are the top pitchers. They also lead the offense, along with speedy leadoff hitter Ian Stebbins. The lineup is dangerous throughout, Soule said, including No. 9 hitter Lindsey Bell. Believed by Lucas to be the only girl in the tournament, Bell ripped a double and a home run in the win over Bangor West.

Other team members are: Aidan Ladd, Alex Trafton, Drake Bickford, Hunter Lizzotte, Kai Lucas, Nick Leighton, Sam MacFarlane, Sam Sheaffer and Thomas Trafton.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33


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