The University of Maine softball team had the America East player of the year (senior catcher Janelle Bouchard), pitcher of the year (junior Erin Bogdanovich) and rookie of the year (third baseman Alyssa Derrick) this spring.

But as the Black Bears enter the conference softball tournament, they’re not celebrating individual honors, but a team-first approach.

“Obviously the talent is completely here,” said Bogdanovich, the former South Portland standout who transferred to Maine from Stetson University. “But (Maine) is definitely about team chemistry. We all get along and it’s so enjoyable to go out to practice every day surrounded by people you love.”

Maine (25-19, 12-5 in the conference) plays Albany at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Binghamton University. The Black Bears are seeded second in the tournament – their highest seed since 2009.

Bouchard, the former Kennebunk star who played her first two college seasons at Valparaiso, said the team never got caught up in its success this season.

“We’re just a group of selfless individuals,” she said. “Everybody is involved in every game. We’re all supporting each other. I consider (her teammates) to be my sisters and my family-away-from-home. I know they’ll always have my back and they know I’ll always have theirs.

“At the end of the day, we all play for each other. And that’s been a big part of our success this year.”

But talent cannot be completely discounted.

And the Black Bears have plenty of that too. In addition to the individual honors, Maine had three other players selected to the all-conference second team and two more named to the all-rookie team.

“Offensively, we’re hitting about 70 points higher than we did last year,” said Mike Coutts, in his first season as Maine’s coach after replacing his wife, Lynn, when she was promoted to senior associate director of athletics.

“It’s all confidence. I think the girls, through all their hard work, through what we do in practice every day, got confidence.”

Maine batted .314 this season, compared to just .251 a year ago. Bouchard, the only senior on Maine’s roster, was a big part of that turnaround.

In her first season with the Black Bears last year, she batted just .230. This year, she hit .394 with four home runs, 35 RBI and 34 runs scored. She hit .421 in conference games.

“Every at-bat she has, I’m confident she’s going to get a hit or an RBI,” said Bogdanovich, who pitched against Bouchard in high school.

“She’s been our leader on the field,” said Coutts. “The girls follow her because she’s really committed to the team and to winning.”

She also threw out 38 percent of attempted base stealers in conference play, and helped Maine achieve a 3.11 ERA.

Bouchard said the opportunity to work with the pitchers last year was huge.

“I just think we clicked as a staff this year,” she said.

And the Black Bears were led by Bogdanovich, who won the same award her older sister, Alexis, won a year ago. Bogdanovich, who added a deadly knuckle-curve to her repertoire this year, went 8-4 with a save, a 3.12 ERA and 61 strikeouts and only 26 walks in 961/3 innings. She was 7-0 in the conference with a 1.11 ERA.

“She struggled when we were in Florida,” said Coutts. “But she came back and really worked hard. Talk about a girl whose confidence changed.”

“When she’s on, she’s on,” said Bouchard. “And with her knuckler, even if you know it’s coming, you can’t hit it anyway.”

The winner of the tournament gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. But Coutts doesn’t want his players thinking that far ahead. And he’s sure they won’t.

“Our thing this year has been a present-day focus,” he said. “Where your feet are, that’s where your focus is. Tomorrow we’ll worry about tomorrow.

“I know they’re going to be pumped up. But we’ve got to be able to control that. We should be able to handle what the game presents.”


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