READFIELD — School vacation rendered both Maranacook and Spruce Mountain short-handed for their Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference softball opener at McPhedran Fields on Wednesday. After an eight-run top of the first by Spruce, the Black Bears could have started acting like they wanted to be anywhere but there, too.

Maranacook pecked away to make a game of it and got the winning run on base in the seventh but ultimately had too much catching up to do in a 13-11 loss to the Phoenix.

Alex Bessey stroked three hits, scored three runs and kept the Black Bears at bay from the circle, leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh to pick up the complete-game victory.

“I’m not happy with our defense. On the flip side of that, we probably generated more offense today than we did any one of our three or four scrimmages, and that’s a good thing,” Spruce Mountain coach Clint Brooks said.

The teams collected 13 hits apiece. Spruce Mountain, whose roster was missing four players, including three who would have been in the starting lineup, committed five errors. Maranacook, which was playing without six of its varsity players — including five starters — made six miscues.

“That first inning killed us,” Maranacook coach Don Beckwith said. “We’ve got a lot of kids away and that made a difference I think. But the young kids did a really good job. We did some things we can build upon. We didn’t quit. We stayed at it and had chances at the end to make a difference, but that will come.”

The Phoenix got more than half of their hits — seven — in the big first inning against Maranacook’s Paige Costa. Two-run singles by Kim Seitz and Kaylee Leclerc did most of damage.

“(A big inning) kind of gets the kids rolling and thinking positive, because we had the same thing happen against us in a scrimmage against Mountain Valley. They came out and scored eight on us early,” Brooks said. “I said ‘You know how you guys felt. They feel the same way.'”

The Black Bears chipped away with two runs in each of their first three innings. Leah Pouliot knocked in both first-inning runs with a triple. They added two more unearned runs in the second, then pulled within 9-6 in the third when Pouliot knocked two more in, this time on a single.

RBIs by Allison Acritelli, Haley Turcotte and Grace Ryan helped give Spruce some breathing room again up 11-6.

Three unearned runs in the fifth pulled the Black Bears to within 11-9. The Phoenix got two back in the sixth on Acritelli’s two-run single, but, sparked by an RBI triple by Erin Bonenfant, the Black Bears rallied again in the sixth to within 13-11.

But for a moment, they even pulled within a run. Bonenfant broke for the plate on Pouliot’s grounder to third. After registering the out at first, Phoenix first baseman Seitz threw home to catcher Julianne Doiron, who applied the tag on a sliding Bonenfant. The home plate umpire hesitated initially, asked Doiron to show him the ball, then ruled Bonenfant safe.

Brooks quickly protested, and after a discussion with both coaches and the other umpire, the home plate umpire reversed his call to out.

“The only reason I (argued) is because he waited and wanted to see the ball,” Brooks said. “I’m thinking, well, if he wants to see the ball, it’s got to be an out call. And then when he didn’t give it to me, I was ‘Wait a minute. I’m a little confused why you’re asking to see the ball.'”

“He meant to call her out to begin with. That’s what he said,” Beckwith said. “That’s part of the game.”

Bessey escaped the inning without any further damage, then survived a harrowing seventh after two singles and a walk that loaded the bases with two out brought Bonenfant at the plate. Bessey got her to bounce back to the circle and threw to first for the game-ending out.

Bonenfant finished 3-for-5 with three runs scored, while Pouliot was 2-for-4 with four RBIs.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

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Twitter: @RAWmaterial33