Saturday, March 8, 2014
FARMINGTON -- Amy Jones went far away from the University of Maine at Farmington. Then she came right back.
HOMESICK: Amy Jones began her collegiate career at the University of Maine at Farmington, but transferred to Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga. Now she’s back. “Being 1,200 miles away from family was really hard for me,” she said.
VITAL PRESENCE: Amy Jones’ return is a big boost for the University of Maine at Farmington softball team, which hopes to contend for the North Atlantic Conference softball title this year. Last spring, she led UMF in runs scored (29), home runs (four), on-base percentage (.395) and stolen bases (six).
UMF SPRING SPORTS CAPSULES
Coach: Cyndi Pratt
Last season: 12-19 overall, 5-9 NAC
Key players: P/DP Kaitlyn Bartlett, OF Lily Barry, IF Shannon Mitchell, IF Amy Jones, UT Liz Sargent, C/IF Meaghan Donnell, P Emma Vaillancourt
Outlook: Last year, the Beavers tried to bash their opponents rather than outfox them. They hit 18 home runs and gave up four, but also stole 16 bases and allowed 59. There's more speed on the roster this spring, and Vaillancourt (6-12, 3.58) and Bartlett (3-4, 5.12) each have another year of experience. Jones hit .316 last season as a freshman and had the highest on-base percentage (.395) on the team. She'll bat somewhere in the top three spots in the lineup and play third base or shortstop. Bartlett (.314, two home runs), Barry (.330), and Mitchell (.310, eight doubles, four home runs) also swing big bats. The Beavers were 1-8 in one-run games last year, so improving that will go a long way toward getting UMF in contention for a NAC title.
Coach: Chris Bessey
Last season: 5-26 overall, 4-12 NAC
Key players: C Jack MacVane, 2B Zach Keene, SS Brian Jenkins, IF/OF Ian McAlister, P Casey Ashey, P Brandon Gallagher, OF/P Dale Winchenbach
Outlook: In each of the last four seasons, UMF has won exactly five games. The Beavers hit .242 as a team last year, with one home run and a .276 slugging percentage. The pitching didn't offset that, as Ashey (2-5, 4.91) was the only one on the staff to throw more than three innings and have an ERA of less than 5.00. Overall, UMF gave up 242 runs in 211 defensive innings. So the Beavers have their work cut out for them, but Bessey has injected more of a central Maine presence than UMF baseball has had in years. The freshmen include Matt Woodbury and Shawn Russell (both Lawrence grads) and Justin Meader (Messalonskee). Joe Sullivan, another freshman, hit .326 and had a 1.48 ERA in 33 innings for Lewiston last spring.
Coach: Molly Wilkie
Last season: 2-10 overall, 1-5 NAC
Key players: M Emma Morrison, M Amie Daniels, A Miranda Levesque, M Alyssa Neptune, D/M Emma Daniel, D/M Molly Carbin, A Abbey Gilbert, GK Hannah Goodenow
Outlook: The Beavers opened their season March 10 with a 23-4 loss to Southern Maine and play today at Wheelock. UMF was picked to finished last among seven teams in the NAC East coaches poll. Morrison was named first-team all-NAC East last season, when she scored 17 goals. Carbin also made all-NAC East and was third in the country with 5.9 ground balls per game. Daniels has 59 points in her career and returns after missing all but three games to injury last year. Levesque (17 goals) and Neptune (13) are the other top returning scorers.
Coach: Jon Evan
Last season: 4-7 overall, 2-5 NAC
Key players: GK/M Ben Altmaier, D Mike Foley, A/M Tennessee Peters, A Matt Roy, GK Hunter Rowell
Outlook: UMF was tabbed for a tie for seventh place in the preseason coaches poll. The Beavers ranked 166th among 175 Division III teams in goals per game last season, but fought their way to four wins by playing strong defense. Altmaier, a Mt. Blue graduate, finished sixth in the country in saves per game and 12th in save percentage last spring. Peters had 11 goals last season, and Roy, of Kents Hill, had five goals and seven assists last year. Foley also returns after finishing seventh in the country with 9.27 ground balls per game. Evan takes over as coach this year and also serves as the men's soccer coach. UMF opened its season Saturday, losing 9-1 at Rivier.
Jones graduated from Cony High School in 2010 then spent her freshman year of college at UMF, making the Dean's List in the fall and hitting .316 for the softball team in the spring.
Then Jones switched schools -- to Armstrong Atlantic State University, a Division II college in Savannah, Ga. She spent one semester there, and now she's back at UMF.
"I'm very family-oriented," Jones said. "Being 1,200 miles away from family was really hard for me. I'm not gonna lie. I missed them."
Jones' return is a big boost for the Beavers, who hope to contend for the North Atlantic Conference softball title this year. Last spring, she led UMF in runs scored (29), home runs (four), on-base percentage (.395) and stolen bases (six).
"I think she has really a complete game as a hitter," UMF coach Cyndi Pratt said. "People have to play her for her power game, but also, she's fast enough to be able to bunt and do the small ball when we need it. She's a very smart and aggressive baserunner. And she's fast, too, so she has speed to go along with that."
After playing mostly shortstop at Cony, Jones was UMF's regular third baseman last year. This meant going from the relative safety of the middle infield to sometimes going into a crouch about 30 feet from the batter.
"It's so different from anywhere on the field, because you have to have split-second judgment," Jones said. "You're either running in for a bunt, or there's a ball coming right at your face -- and it's not coming slow. I like it. It gets my heart racing. I'm all about it."
Jones committed 12 errors, but also made nearly three plays per game and showed quick reflexes and excellent range.
"To play third base in softball, you have to be fearless," Pratt said. "If you're scared, then you're not going to be able to make the plays. She was able to make a lot of plays, and amazing plays. To take away other teams' bunting game is very important in softball."
Pratt is noncommittal as to where Jones will field or bat this spring, saying it's still too early to tell until the Beavers get in some time outside. She expects Jones to play either third or short, and bat somewhere in the top three spots in the order. Jones, who batted leadoff last year, is unfazed by the uncertainty.
"I've always been that player -- I don't care where you play me, I just really want to play," Jones said.
Jones also brings a competitive fire to the Beavers. That, like her decision to come back to Farmington, comes from her family.
"I grew up with two brothers," she said. "It was always, 'If you're crying, Amy, you're not playing with us. You gotta be tougher.' They made me into the athlete that I am today."
Matt DiFilippo -- 861-9243