ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine softball team earned its first America East conference championship in more than a decade last spring.
With 19 players returning from that squad, including reigning conference pitcher of the year Erin Bogdanovich, the league’s coaches feel the Black Bears are the team to beat again in 2017.
Coach Mike Coutts’ Black Bears have been tabbed as a unanimous first-place selection in the America East Preseason Coaches Poll, which was announced Wednesday.
UMaine garnered 36 points and received six first-place votes. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.
Binghamton (28 points) was tabbed second, followed by Albany (26), Stony Brook (24), Maryland Baltimore County (13), UMass Lowell (13) and Hartford (7).
In addition to Bogdanovich, the Bears also return the conference rookie of the year in shortstop/outfielder Alyssa Derrick, who slugged eight home runs and knocked in 41 runs last spring.
Eight all-conference and all-rookie selections will dot UMaine’s roster, along with an incoming class of freshmen that includes Maine natives Hailey Perry of Hermon and pitcher Lilly Volk of Scarborough.
The Black Bears finished 28-21 last season, thumping Albany 14-1 in the America East title game before playing in the NCAA Athens Regional at the University of Georgia.
UMaine hit .315 as a team last season, setting single-season school records with 263 runs scored and 430 hits while clubbing 31 home runs.
The Black Bears’ pitching also locked opponents down, leading America East with a 3.19 earned run average and 261 strikeouts while yielding just 144 earned runs.
UMaine also featured the top three pitchers in the league in terms of ERA in Megan Flowers (2.78), Bogdanovich (3.05) and Annie Kennedy (3.11). The Bears had a slick fielding percentage of .958.
UMaine opens the season on Feb. 10 against Missouri-Kansas City at Nashville, Tennessee.