Lynn Coutts, representing the Maine High School Softball Coaches Association, presented the Miss Maine Softball Award to South Portland High School’s Alexis Bogdanovich in 2011. The runner-up was Kayla Merrill from Telstar High School in Bethel.
Both Bogdanovitch and Merrill have continued their success in college, and their senior seasons have been memorable. They have been consummate game changers in leading their respective teams into postseason play.
Bogdanovich plays for Coutts at the University of Maine after transferring from Division II Saint Anselm College. The five-time America East Pitcher of the Week was named the league’s Pitcher of the Year and Coutts was selected the league’s Coach of the Year.
She enters Thursday’s 1 p.m. America East opener against top seed and host Stony Brook (New York) boasting a 14-6 record, a 1.54 earned run average and 175 strikeouts against just 12 walks over 132 innings. She has 15 complete games and a save.
Merrill led Husson University of Bangor to a seventh straight North Atlantic Conference title and NCAA tournament berth in the pitching circle and at the plate. She was named the NAC’s Pitcher and Player of the Year.
Husson faces Eastern Connecticut State in Friday’s 1 p.m. game in the four-team regional at Wheaton College (Massachusetts).
Merrill has 15-4 record and a 1.38 ERA with 13 complete games, 97 strikeouts and 22 walks in 126⅔ innings. At the plate, she leads the Eagles in hitting (.437), hits (52), stolen bases (10), runs scored (35) and on-base percentage (.485). She has three home runs and 18 RBIs.
Husson interim head coach Terren Hall is familiar with both because she was an assistant at Maine last year.
“They’re both quiet,” Hall said. “They have a very large presence on the field. They are hard-working girls who are always striving to be better.”
She also said they lead by example and their mental presence on the mound “sparks their teammates and gives them added confidence.”
Coutts said Bogdanovich has improved every year.
“When she’s in the circle, she sets the tone,” Coutts said. “She keeps everybody confident. She commands the circle. She has more of a presence this year.”
Hall said Merrill has been their catalyst.
“She has meant a great deal to us,” Hall said. “She has definitely been a tone-setter. In addition to her pitching, she has supplied an offensive spark.”
Merrill is Husson’s leadoff hitter.
“The best thing I can say about Kayla Merrill is when she pitches, she holds the opposing team to two runs or less and she’ll produce more than two runs on her own,” New England College coach Ben Master said. “That will win you a whole lot of games.”
Bogdanovich and Merrill said they wanted their senior seasons to be special.
“You want your senior year to be everything you want it to be,” Bogdanovich said. “I’ve worked hard. I’ve done everything I could. It has worked out so far.”
“You want to play as hard as you can so you can go out having a good year,” Merrill said.
Both feel they have made significant improvements leading to their successful seasons.
“I’ve worked a lot on doing a better job with 0-2 counts,” the hard-throwing Bogdanovich said. “I’ve kept the ball off the plate more to get hitters to chase.”
Bogdanovich, who throws a curve, screwball, changeup and drop ball, said she has focused on making every pitch her best pitch.
“I’ve always been a perfectionist. I have to make sure I hit my spots with every pitch. I don’t focus so much on the batter as I do my catcher’s glove,” Bogdanovich said.
Merrill throws a rise, drop, curve, screwball, fastball and changeup and said she has honed in on “hitting my spots (better).”
At the plate, she said she has zeroed in on being “more consistent.”
The result has been an improvement of 51 points in her average.
And she has been able to accomplish that despite admitting pitchers have been more careful pitching to her this season.
“They’ve been mixing speeds and throwing more pitches on the outside part of the plate,” Merrill said.
Both would love to extend their college seasons by winning their respective tournaments this weekend.