Orrington native Jordan Fitzpatrick, seen in this undated photo, is the new head coach of the University of Maine softball team. Credit: Courtesy of UMaine Athletics

In the fall, the University of Maine softball team had to practice at Old Town High School while its field in Orono was being worked on to be ready for the spring.

Then the Mahaney Dome collapsed on Jan. 26 due to too much snow on the roof, taking away the team’s main practice facility.

Despite all of those changes to their daily routine, the Black Bears have decided to find the positives in their season. It’s been the theme this spring for UMaine and through 18 games the Black Bears have racked up five wins and are feeling confident.

“I think we’re doing pretty well,” UMaine softball coach Jordan Fitzpatrick said. “I am just super proud of how our team has been resilient this year. I know it sounds cliche but it’s true.”

While the Mahaney Dome has been under construction since the collapse, the team has rotated between practicing in the New Balance Field House, baseball’s batting pavilion and even at Slugger’s, a training facility in Brewer.

UMaine hasn’t had too many “normal” practices but earned a win in its first game of the season against George Washington on Feb. 10, 3-2. The following week the Black Bears earned three wins in the Chattanooga Challenge before competing in the OSU/Tulsa Invitational.

“I think what we’ve been doing is really good given our circumstances,” Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t want to use it as an excuse and I know the girls are using it as fuel. It’s amazing that we can come out and really compete with teams that have been able to practice outside and have real practices and not just taking [batting practice].”

At the OSU/Tulsa Invitational, UMaine played twice against No. 24 Missouri and once against No. 3 Oklahoma State. The Black Bears lost all three games against the nationally ranked softball powerhouses but wanted to get experience playing in big games.

In 2016, the Black Bears made the NCAA Regional after winning the America East tournament and played Georgia in the first round. Fitzpatrick, who was an assistant coach on the team, saw that the squad wasn’t ready for the experience. Since then she has tried to schedule big games in the spring for the Black Bears to get used to the crowds and large stadiums seen at nationally ranked teams.

“I think it’s good to see really good competition even if we aren’t ready to see it, because it’s a good gauge for us,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s easy to hit and pitch against each other but to play against a team that’s really good we can come back and say, ‘OK, we need to work on this, this wasn’t as good as we thought but this was as good as we thought it was.’”

At the Bulldog Classic, UMaine emerged with a 4-2 victory over Fresno State on March 12. On Monday, the Black Bears lost 4-3 to the same team with a wild pitch in the seventh inning contributing to the loss.

One of the positives to emerge from the tournament includes the play of outfielder Grace McGouldrick, who was named to the All-Tournament team. McGouldrick notched five hits and two runs in the tournament and is hitting .300 on the season.

Fitzpatrick has given McGouldrick, a fifth-year player, a challenge for the season that the coach wouldn’t reveal but said her senior is playing well and is a leader by example.

“COVID messed it up for a lot of people but she’s using it and putting it in perspective,” Fitzpatrick said. “Last year she went at it like, ‘This is my last year to play.’ This year she’s saying, ‘This is the bonus year, so let’s have fun and just do the best I can.’ She’s not putting stress on her last spring trip or last forever, she still knows she has to go out and compete for the team. In that sense, she’s been phenomenal.”

Fifth-year infielder Kelby Drews and freshman infielder Krista Francia have also been bright spots for the Black Bears this season.

Drews was recently sidelined with an injury but is like another coach for UMaine during her time in the dugout.

“She can break down things and talk to people and she can relate to them because she’s been through it,” Fitzpatrick said of Drews.

Even when Francia is struggling at the plate, Fitzpatrick is proud of her work ethic.

“She’s not playing like a freshman because she’s playing with confidence,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think she really does a good job of processing the game and understanding what’s going on and separating her at-bats.”

UMaine plays its home opener on April 1 against the University of Albany. Fitzpatrick knows her team will be ready.

“I think we’ve done a really good job of taking away the positives and learning from everything we’ve gone through,” Fitzpatrick added. “I would say that growth mindset, being able to look at things.”

Avatar photo

Adam Robinson

Adam Robinson is a native of Auburn, Maine, and graduate of Husson University and Edward Little High School. He enjoys sports, going on runs and video games.