By Al Pike / firstname.lastname@example.org
PORTSMOUTH -- As often happens with a first-year program, the Great Bay Community College softball team experienced some early growing pains.
In a recent trip to Florida, the Herons led Wisconsin-Superior by two runs and were six outs away from their first win but couldn't close it out, succumbing to a late rally in a 7-6 loss.
It was one of three games and five practices the Herons had in Fort Myers, Fla., in preparation for their inaugural spring season. They also dropped a 13-7 decision to Wilmington and lost, 11-1, to Castleton.
One bad inning in each game cost them.
"I'm happy with the way we competed in Florida," said Great Bay coach Mike Vining, who coached 10 years at Portsmouth Christian Academy in Dover. "We were in games against teams better than us. I'm thinking if we play like that down there we'll be in every game up here. We should go .500 or better in our first season. If we can do that I'll take that all day long and build from there."
Great Bay also played a handful of games last fall, losing all five. However, the Herons have picked up five players since then, including former PCA standout Emily Brashear, who had three hits and an RBI against Wisconsin-Superior.
In the same game, Farmington's Kayleigh MacDougall had two hits and two RBIs from the leadoff spot.
"From what I saw in the fall we should be over .500," Vining said. "We'll win more games than we lose if we play up to our capability, but if we have one or two injuries we're in deep trouble. I see that as our biggest challenge."
Meaghan Sandler of South Berwick, Maine, and Marshwood High School gives the team some versatility, and has six hits and two RBIs in eight games.
Of the 11 players on the roster, 10 are from the Seacoast area. Former Spaulding High standout Paige Cormier, who played collegiately at St. Anselm College, is the assistant coach.
"Our defense is outstanding," Vining said. "We have a lockdown infield and a speedy outfield. We're looking for our pitchers to throw strikes. Pitch to contact and we'll make the plays. The hitting is pretty solid too."
The Herons' home opener is scheduled for Sunday, April 8, at Portsmouth's Alumni Field against Northern Essex CC of Massachusetts.
The spring slate also includes doubleheaders against Yankee Small College Conference foes Central Maine CC, Southern Maine CC, New Hampshire Technical Institute and the College of St. Joseph from Vermont.
"We're solid," Vining said. "I feel as though we'll be competitive. We have a couple weaknesses. We don't have depth. I think we'll be in every game. We have the pitching, hitting and defense to compete in our conference."
Unlike high school or a four-year college, players will stay only two years at most at Great Bay, which enters the spring season with nine freshmen.
"The turnover will be tough to get used to, but that's OK," Vining said. "We play some four-year schools. It is what it is. We'll make the best of the situation. I'm pleased with the way the team has come together. We have six girls who were All-State players in high school. We have a good nucleus. We have three solid pitchers. I don't have depth. That's the problem."