When Grace McGouldrick met with her coach, Jordan Fitzpatrick, before the start of the University of Maine softball season, they set a lofty goal.
McGouldrick, a fifth-year senior from Gorham, notched a total of 13 stolen bases over her first four seasons with the Black Bears. She and Fitzpatrick wanted to up that number this season.
“Going into the season we were looking at some records and I think the record here at Maine is 33 [stolen bases] in a year and so we just looked at her one day and said, ‘Think about that. You could do that,’” Fitzpatrick recalled.
“We play 48 or 49 games and so if you think about it, it’s less than one a game and I said, ‘Well, shit, Grace, you could do that.’”
McGouldrick is nearing the UMaine record of 33 steals in a season with 24 so far with 11 games to go before the America East tournament. Her 24 steals are good enough for the top spot in the conference and tied for 21st in all of Division I softball. Her .67 steals per game ranks her 16th in the country, as well.
McGouldrick and fellow fifth-year player Kelby Drews refer to themselves as the “old grandmas” of the UMaine softball team, and are using their “extra year” of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic to provide leadership to the younger players. The two veterans, both hitting in the .300s at the plate, are attempting to usher a new generation of UMaine softball players into a brighter future with the program.
Drews is the middle infielder that young players go to with questions and for advice, while McGouldrick is the loud, positive leader on the team.
Getting on base is important for steals, and McGouldrick has taken that to heart. She’s hitting .350, good enough for fifth in America East, and has 36 hits, which is third in the conference.
“I’ve done it in the past a bit but it hasn’t been to this extent,” McGouldrick said of her steals. “It’s been really cool and I’ve gotten on base and we have girls that can bunt and get into counts that help me get around. We have small ball players this year so for me to continue to steal and get around the bases, that’s been a really helpful part.”
Drews has been hitting extremely well, notching 18 hits with a .383 batting average in her 19 games she’s played in. A nagging calf injury has sidelined her for half of the season.
To help the team, Fitzpatrick said that Drews has been somewhat of a player-coach in the dugout when she’s out of the game. Freshmen Krista Francia and Madison Hand have taken Drews’ place in the middle infield when she’s been out and they go to Drews for advice.
“She’s really taken on that role, especially when she was injured,” Fitzpatrick said. “She looks for things to do and I think that was a great role for her because people look up to her. It’s her fifth year and having played the majority of games in her five years. Krista and Madison have done a great job of stepping in and playing a lot.”
UMaine sits at 10-29, two more wins than last season. It’s not the season that the Black Bears wanted to have, but the team is close on the field and the program finally has a new field, the UMaine Softball Complex.
The new facility could be the start of a new era for the team, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2016, when the team went 28-21.
umaine’s start-of-season challenges
“I think getting the new field shows how much the school and athletic department supports us as a team,” McGouldrick said. “I just think it’s really nice and helpful that we see it and they have our backs. I think that’s our biggest thing is we’re doing it for the players before us. It’s so much easier to get kids to come here because we can play more on it.”
McGouldrick is from Gorham, just a couple hours south on I-95, but Drews is from Hollywood, Florida, and had never seen snow before coming to Orono.
Drews took her visit in the fall and had no idea what the day-to-day weather was like in Maine. Still, she’s stayed five years and said it takes a certain player to join the UMaine program.
“I was talking to our athletic director [Jude Killy] the other day and I said it takes a special kind of person to come to Maine but you come here for the people,” Drews said. “If you come here for big shiny things, we don’t have the greatest facilities but we are working on it. You come here for the people. That’s what got me here.”