BANGOR, Maine — Growing pains have been modest for a youthful Husson University softball team this spring.
Despite having 11 freshmen and five sophomores among their 16 players, the Eagles have soared to the No. 1 seed in the final North Atlantic Conference standings and will host the league’s four-team, double-elimination tournament starting Friday with a trip to the NCAA Division III championships at stake.
“We have what I call ‘gamers’ in my freshman class,” said Husson coach Terren Allen, whose club (27-11 overall, 11-1 in NAC play) opens the tourney at 10 a.m. Friday against No. 4 New England College of Henniker, New Hampshire (17-19, 6-6 NAC), at O’Keefe Field.
“They’ve really pushed the upperclassmen to become better players, we have great leadership from our juniors and seniors and our sophomores are continuing to play really well.”
No. 2 Castleton of Vermont (18-1-1, 10-2 NAC) faces No. 3 Thomas College of Waterville (11-21, 7-5) at noon Friday. Games continue at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Friday, and at noon and 2 p.m. Saturday, and an if-necessary game at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Husson leads the conference in every significant offensive team category except stolen bases — where the Eagles are second.
The offense features freshman leadoff batter Bri Brochu and classmate Tamara Aunchman, Husson’s cleanup hitter.
Brochu, who plays both in the infield and the outfield, is among Division III’s leading hitters nationally with a conference-best .500 batting average in 102 regular-season at-bats to go with a NAC-best 10 doubles, 10 stolen bases and 15 RBI.
“She bats on the left side and has speed so she can bunt; she can slap and she can hit for power,” said Allen of Brochu, a Pittston resident who batted .627 as a senior at Gardiner Area High School while stealing 40 bases in 40 attempts and not striking out during the regular season.
“Really she’s kind of taken everybody’s defense by surprise. She catches them on their heels when they’re not paying attention and lays down a bunt and gets on or she can slap it over the shortstop or drive it into the gap. She’s definitely a triple-threat kind of player.”
Aunchman, a first baseman from Panton, Vermont, leads the NAC with seven home runs to go with a .370 batting average and 26 RBI. She is the reigning conference player of the week after batting .450 with three scored runs, six RBI, two home runs, one double, and two walks in Husson’s last six games.
“We knew she had good power,” said Allen. “She has a tendency to pull off the ball a little bit in her swing so we’ve worked with her on staying in the zone a little longer and working on that power. With her it’s just a matter of staying disciplined because teams pitch around her even as a freshman.”
Others contributing to Husson’s .324 team batting average include sophomore outfielder Olivia Smith of Calais (.330, 20 RBI) and freshman infielder Chloe Gorey of Scarborough (.309, 3HR, 21 RBI), while senior second baseman Nicole Andrade has a team-leading 13 stolen bases in 14 attempts.
One other big difference from last spring — when Husson’s seven-year run as NAC champion ended — is in the pitcher’s circle. Freshman Jen Jones (7-5, 2.52 ERA, NAC-leading 96 strikeouts), senior Alannah Healy (8-2, 0.90 ERA, 65Ks) and sophomore Aarika Brochu, a transfer from Division II Saint Anselm who is 5-4 with one save and a 2.35 ERA, have provided the Eagles quality depth while working with senior catcher Casey Lopes.
“This year we have pitching,” said Allen. “Last year we struggled in the circle a little bit but this year those three have been tremendous for us in the circle, keeping us in every game.”
Husson’s return to the top of the conference standings was rooted in its pre-NAC schedule, which included a 14-game trip to Florida.
“We told the girls we were going to try to play as many games as possible because we have a young team and we needed to see the new girls out there and get people some opportunities to see what they could do,” said Allen. “They really embraced it and played really hard. We came back with a winning record (9-5) and I think that really helped build their confidence.”
Now the Eagles hope to cap off their season by winning their conference championship and earning an NCAA berth amid the most intense time of the year on any college campus — finals week.
At least they won’t have to travel.
“Definitely having it at home relieves a lot of stress for the girls as far as preparing for finals, getting their finals done, sleeping in their own beds and having a lot of time to study instead of traveling on a bus and things like that,” said Allen. “We’re very fortunate, but it’s a busy week. Practice times probably will be some time in the afternoon and we’ll be missing some kids due to finals, but hopefully we’ll get the majority of the team there.”