ATHENS, Ga. — For a team with only one senior, Maine’s opening game of the NCAA softball regional was a learning experience.

The Black Bears, making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2004, fell behind early against 16th-ranked Georgia and couldn’t generate any offense against the host team. Maine struck out 14 times and didn’t advance a runner beyond first base in a 6-0 loss Friday afternoon.

“It was a great experience for our girls to get here,” said UMaine Coach Mike Coutts, whose team won the America East championship last weekend. “What we went through … I can’t teach at any practice session or anything else, so as I said to the girls afterward, just having the opportunity to play in a regional is huge for us, and we’ll be better prepared (Saturday).”

Maine (28-20) will face Oklahoma State (29-25) at 3:30 p.m. in an elimination game. Oklahoma State lost 2-1 to Northwestern in Friday’s opener.

Northwestern (27-26) will meet Georgia (41-17) at 1 p.m. and the loser of that contest plays the Maine-Oklahoma State winner at 6 p.m.

The trouble began early for Maine, as Erin Bogdanovich walked the first two batters, setting the table for Bulldogs slugger Alex Hugo. Bogdanovich was able to coax a popup to the pitching circle, but her throw to first base for a potential double play was mishandled by Kristen Niland.

After another infield out by Georgia’s Tina Iosefa, freshman Alyssa DiCarlo doubled, driving home two runs to give the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead.

In the bottom of the third, Hugo opened the inning with a walk and came all the way home on a deep drive to left field by Iosefa that was dropped by Rachel Harvey at the warning track. Iosefa eventually scored on a fielder’s choice by DiCarlo, putting Georgia up 4-0.

The Bulldogs also scored in the fifth and sixth.

Coutts admitted that the inning-opening walks were problematic, but he said tighter defense would have made a considerable difference.

“That usually does present trouble, but in the first inning, if we catch a ball at first base on a popup to (Bogdanovich) we’re out of the inning, and if we catch a fly ball in left field (in the third inning) we’re out of that inning,” he said.

“When you play good teams, when you walk people and give them extra people on base, it shows up a little bit more, no question.”

Just getting on base proved difficult for the Black Bears, as Georgia starting pitcher Chelsea Wilkinson and reliever Kylie Bass held Maine at bay.

Wilkinson pitched the first three innings and fanned eight of the 10 batters she faced, allowing one hit, to Felicia Lennon. Bass closed out the game, giving up four hits and striking out six.

“The first couple of innings we were just trying to get the jitters out – maybe everybody came in a little too hyped for the game, but once we settled in we were working the counts more and working against pitching from a (Southeastern Conference) school,” said Janelle Bouchard, who recorded one of Maine’s five hits.

“It’s certainly pitching we haven’t seen a lot of this year, but we made great adjustments, and toward the end of the game we were making better contact.”

Maine also got hits from Harvey, Rachel Carlson and pinch-hitter Maddie Decker.

Bogdanovich went the distance for the Black Bears, allowing nine hits, including a towering fifth-inning home run by Iosefa, her 21st of the season. She walked four and struck out four.

“I knew I couldn’t give them anything great to hit,” said Bogdanovich, noting Georgia had seven players in its starting lineup hitting .327 or better. “They did a good job holding off on some close ones. They did very well.”

Although the Black Bears are now in a must-win situation, Coutts insists there’s no extra pressure on his team.

“To be honest, it’s just another game,” he said. “For me, it’s more (a question of) how are we going to come in tomorrow to play. Will we come in a little nervous like we did today or are we going to use today’s experience and be better tomorrow?

“And to me, that’s how we’re building our program. We learn from today and (get) better tomorrow. At the end of the day, if we’re good enough to win, that’s great. But we haven’t talked about winning all year – we’ve talked about handling every pitch and every inning and every situation, and I’m really anxious to see how we come in and play.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.