DIXFIELD — As Sara Thurston’s mind works its way around all around the positions of the softball diamond, it isn’t until she reaches the outfield that the Dirigo coach can finally name one player who was starting in the same position as last year.

“That’s our leftfielder, Britney Ellis,” Thurston said.

After two straight trips to the Western C final, the Cougars graduated a ton of talent. Whatever returning players there were started this season in different positions. It made for a spring of transition for much of the Dirigo lineup, but the Cougars have quickly acclimated.

With two significant wins over Telstar and Mountain Valley recently, the Cougars moved up the Western Class C standings and finished the regular season 11-5 and fourth overall. It puts the Cougars in position to challenge a crowded field in the upcoming tourney.

“There’s a lot of similarities between my freshman year and this year,” said junior pitcher Ellen Wainwright, who is one of just a handful of Cougars that have been on the Dirigo team that reached the regional final the last two seasons. “We’re starting to progress and are going up the ladder, both hitting and defense-wise. If we keep going up and don’t start losing momentum, we’ll be OK.”

Dirigo lost to Madison in the regional final last year. Two years ago, the Cougars beat Sacopee Valley before losing to Bucksport in the Class C state game.

The Cougars only have three seniors on the team, Ellis, Destiny Newton and Bryce Parent. Though Dirigo returned players such as Wainwright, Emma Lueders, Lauren Henderson, Katelyn Olsen and Megan Bradbury, most of them were starting in new positions.

It took some patience and some adjusting but working as a team enabled the Cougars to develop and build confidence.

“We have each other’s back a lot on this team,” said Olsen, a sophomore pitcher. “We encourage each other. We have new girls in positions they haven’t played before. We have to tell them what they’re doing wrong so they can work on that. We don’t want them to get down because they make a mistake. It’s not their fault. We work from it. We just build from it.”

After starting the year 3-0, the Cougars lost three consecutive games. Those losses came to Hall-Dale, Madison and Winthrop. Since then, Dirigo has won eight of 10, including wins over Telstar and Mountain Valley.

“Really from the beginning, I’ve seen it in them, but I don’t necessarily think they saw it in themselves,” Thurston said. “Now, especially our win against Telstar, that really sparked it for them.”

Blanking Telstar, a perennial tourney contender and a team the Cougars beat in the Western C tourney last spring, showed that this Dirigo club could also compete with some of the best teams.

“We went in confident and stayed confident the whole game,” said Olsen, who pitched a one-hitter and struck out five in that game. “We stayed strong. We didn’t let up. We earned it. We worked hard.”

Though the Cougars lost a close one to Spruce Mountain the next morning, Dirigo beat Mountain Valley in a key battle for playoff positioning last week. The team has been learning and growing as a group and now see the potential that exists.

“I knew being on the team the last two years and going to Western Maine that we lost a lot of key people,” Wainwright said. “But I also knew that the talent coming in this year was enough to fill those key losses.”

Olsen and Wainwright have formed a solid tandem in the pitcher’s circle. Both were backup hurlers last year.  Bradbury has been behind the plate while Henderson, last year’s catcher,  moved to third.

That allowed Lueders to move to short. Ellie Jasper at second and Kelsey Hutchins at first was new for the Cougars as well. Though Ellis was the lone returnee in left, Newton was in center while Brittany Greig has been in right. Parent has come off the bench. The Cougars lost a lot of talent, experience and leadership from last year’s team, but this group has been forming its own identity.

“We’re a pretty young team,” Wainwright said. “It’s all about being positive and working with each other. It’s a team effort.”

It’s been an effort that has the Cougars playing some of their best ball of the season and peaking at just the right time, much like the Dirigo teams of the last two years.

“We’re hoping that the momentum that we have can carry us and that we can continue to do things consistently,” Thurston said.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: