Waterville baserunner Abby Williams slides safely into second before Maranacook shortstop Abby Jacques can make play during a game Tuesday in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

READFIELD — Step for step Tuesday afternoon, the Maranacook and Waterville softball teams went through the paces in virtually identical fashion.

Each team rapped out seven hits. Each starting pitcher posted double-digit strikeout totals. Each offense managed to get runners on base and put stress on the opposing defense. The difference in Waterville’s 5-4 win came down to how that defense handled the adversity, with the Black Bears committing seven errors to account for all five of the Purple Panthers’ runs.

Defense, it seems, wins more than just championships.

“Defense wins these games,” said Waterville first baseman Gillian Poulin, who recorded six putouts, including a backhanded snare of an Alexis Michaud grounder to end a Maranacook threat in the sixth inning. “It’s more of a mindset. You’ve got to work together. It can’t be an individual thing.”

Waterville (5-3) walked out to a 5-0 lead through six and a half innings, punishing a leaky Maranacook defense.

Catcher Abby Williams led off both the first and third innings by reaching via an error before scoring, and shortstop Savanna Cormier went 2 for 3 with the lone Purple Panther RBI of the afternoon in a two-run first inning.


“Reps. It’s definitely reps,” Waterville coach Tom Toner said of learning sound defensive habits in practice. “You want to get muscle memory, you want to get it to be natural, second nature stuff. The more times you do it, the easier it’s going to be in a game and you don’t have to think about it. Game knowledge is important, too, but game knowledge comes with reps.”

While Panther pitcher Raylee Gilbert struck out 14 — including fanning the side in both the second and seventh innings — the defense behind her was nearly flawless. In addition to Poulin’s steady hand at first, right fielder Rylee Lint twice came up with sterling, running catches on bullet line drives off Black Bear bats.

Testament to the old adage that you need to get all 21 outs, the Panthers nearly saw it all go for naught in the home half of the seventh.

Waterville baserunner Rylee Lint is tagged out at third by Maranacook third baseman Esm Jamison during a game Tuesday in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

A ground ball to Cormier with two outs that should have ended the game — and secured a shutout for Gilbert — ended up down the right field line on an errant throw. That small window allowed Maranacook (2-3) to score four unearned runs and leave both the tying and winning runs on base by the time the dust settled.

“We’ve lost games because of innings like that,” Toner said. “It was like everything came together today. The last couple of days we’ve really driven home that our defense needs to be better, and we were great for 6 2/3 innings. But we also told the girls after the game, ‘Next time we’ve got to do it for seven innings.’”

It can be hard to prioritize practice time for defense in a typical Maine spring, with indoor practices and hitting and pitching to work on. But for the Black Bears, this spring was more abbreviated than most.


“We were shut down for three weeks because of Covid,” Maranacook coach coach Don Beckwith said. “We had four days (of practice), had to sit out for for three weeks, then had four days and started to play games. It’s hard, and it’s not fair to the kids, really.

“It’s hard to teach. You’ve got to do it while you’re on the run and see how good you are.”

The Black Bears are young, a lineup loaded with sophomores with no high school experience, but that doesn’t mean they are thin on softball players. Beckwith said what this group needs is confidence, and even in defeat Tuesday may have begun to develop some thanks to a last-inning rally.

“We didn’t quit, and that’s huge. That’s how you get confidence,” said Beckwith, whose team is playing three games in three days this week. “Confidence is a beast. It’s just a big ball coming down a mountain. When you get confidence, it just gets bigger and bigger. We just have to play.”

Poulin and Ebba Heaton-Jones each had two-hit days for Waterville.

For Maranacook, senior center fielder Grace Dwyer went 3 for 4 with a run scored, and Jordan Stratton was 1 for 4 with two RBIs.

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