FARMINGTON — How significant was it that the Mt. Blue softball team made its first regional tournament appearance in more than a decade last month? Significant enough that somebody called the cops on them.

When the Cougars were gathering on campus to head to their Class A North quarterfinal at top-seeded Skowhegan, a sheriff’s deputy showed up looking for head coach Ron Smith.

“I knew I hadn’t been speeding or anything, so I wondered what was going on,” Smith recalled with a laugh. “The officer says to me, ‘My only detail today is to make sure you guys make it to Skowhegan.’ That was a really cool thing to have a police escort like that, for the girls on the team and the whole community.”

Mt. Blue hadn’t made a preliminary-round appearance since 2014 and hadn’t made the tournament proper in more than a 10 years, and for the Cougars simply showing up in the quarterfinals marked a significant step forward. For his efforts in leading the program through a rebuilding phase ending with a spot in the regional tournament, Smith has been chosen as the Morning Sentinel Softball Coach of the Year.

“It’s a goal we had set as a team, and a lot of our kids gave that little extra,” Smith said. “There were multiple games where we had a different hero. To get to .500 and have that season that we had, you need that.”

The road to the playoffs was not an easy one, and not just because the Cougars had to wait on results from other games on the final day of the regular season. Many of Mt. Blue’s starting seniors had also been starters for three years prior in a stacked Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A division, and those lumps started to accumulate by the time the 2018 campaign came to a close with 11 losses in 16 games.

An 8-8 record this season was tangible improvement, buoyed by a three-game winning streak to begin the season and another five-game winning streak two-thirds of the way through the schedule.

“Hampden Academy — that was one of bigger games of season,” Smith said of a game in late May. “We were down 4-0 in the first inning. But rather than panic, we’re picking up a couple, three runs in a couple of the late innings and we win that game (7-6). I’m confident that doesn’t happen in the past.

“We felt like we had a chance to compete every game — things like that, that’s a fundamental change in attitude. That made the difference this year. It was great to see that for the kids. It was a great maturity point for the kids — that they were responding as ballplayers and not just emotionally to what was happening in the game.”

The Cougars spent the evening of May 30 scoreboard watching. When it became official that Gardiner had beaten Cony, it lifted Mt. Blue over the Rams and into the eighth and final playoff spot in Class A North.

But don’t pretend that Mt. Blue backed into the postseason.

“We got in based on the fact that Cony lost, but we did what we could do to get there, too,” Smith said. “Things like that, the girls will remember for a very long time.”

“Wins and losses — obviously everybody looks at that and judges where you stand. But at the same time, it’s little stuff — it’s a late game hit, some over-the-fence home runs, things we hadn’t really had before. Everything about this season was positive. Even on our bad days, we were looking to improve instead of just thinking it was over.”

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