GRAY — With any opening day, there’s always an abundance of excitement to start a new season, but count on some unpredictability to go with it.

In early April, softball rosters are often in a state of flux. Teams have little to no experience on real fields. There’s rust to work out and some nerves to settle as well.

The Gray-New Gloucester softball team juggled all those aspects of opening day and settled in for an 8-2 win over Poland Friday.

“A lot of us have been working hard in the offseason,” sophomore pitcher Alie Martell said. “Since most of us are returning, we have that experience and that knowledge of the game. So we knew what we had to do.”

The Patriots and Knights were tied through four innings, 2-2, but Gray-New Gloucester got aggressive on the bases and had some key hits to break the lead open late. Martell finished the job in the circle, shutting down the Knights over the final three innings.

“We definitely settled in,” Gray-NG coach Amanda Harmon said. “Aggressive base running was key in the last couple innings and the girls just took a deep breath and used that confidence to drive in those runs that we needed.”

Poland wore down at the end, allowing six runs on six hits in the final two innings. The Knights had four of their six errors in those two innings.

“We had some young players out there today,” said Poland’s first-year coach Connor King, whose team graduated seven players from last year. “Going into the game, we were down three starters. Two were away on vacation and one was pretty sick. So we had to throw some young ones into the fire. We did some good things. I’m pleased with it. We just have to do a better job maintaining our composure.”

Martell finished with one hit, two runs and two RBI while also pitching the final three innings. She allowed just one hit and struck out five.

“I like coming in and having that challenge where I have to consistently throw strikes and get the outs that we need,” Martell said of the relief role, something she normally doesn’t do. “I knew we could win this game, but we needed to get the outs and stop their offense.”

Alexa Thayer had three hits and two runs for the Patriots, while Skye Conley also drove in a run. Morgan Brousseau led the Knights with three hits and an RBI. She also pitched well, scattering six hits and striking out four. She labored late in the game and finished with six walks.

It was in the fifth that the Patriots broke the tie with two runs on just one hit. Martell walked and later scored on a wild pitch. Thayer singled and later scored on a Kaelyn Woods fielder’s choice.

Then in the sixth, Gray-NG broke the game open with four runs on three hits and three errors. Mikayla Ryan scored from second on an infield error to make it 5-2. Then Cara Waltz scored on a miscue on a Patriots double steal attempt. Martell scored on a wild pitch and Conley singled in the final run.

The Patriots were plagued by seven errors but got solid pitching from both Martell and starter Haley True. True went four innings and allowed just two runs on six hits. She struck out four, while dealing with six errors in the field. Gray-NG did get some sparkling defense from Hannah Dixon at short and Conley at first with a nice stretch to get an out.

“It’s still new for us to be out on the field,” Harmon said. “This is our third day in the dirt. So it’s still a little tough and we’re still working out those kinks. Once we settled in and got the nerves out, we made the plays we needed.”

Poland took the early lead when Sydney Hudson reached on an error and scored on a Brousseau RBI double in the first. Gray-NG took the lead in the third when Martell singled in Waltz and Ryan.

“It felt good,” Martell said of the hit. “Right off the bat, I thought it was going through, and it was a good, solid hit.”

Poland tied the game again in the fourth when two errors on a Sarah Walton grounder allowed Erin Brewer to score and tie it 2-2. The Knights had three hits in that inning and stranded two. Poland would only get one hit the rest of the way but stranded five runners in the final three innings.

“We left some runners on base, but I’m excited,” said King, whose next regular season game will be a rematch with the Patriots. “It’s a great group of girls. They’re a hard-working group. I think we’ll be able to build on this.”

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