Playing the first few games coming out of the Mahaney Dome and field house are always challenging for the University of Maine baseball team.
Even so, coach Steve Trimper’s Black Bears showed some early promise while going 1-3 against the University of Nevada-Las Vegas last weekend.
UMaine received strong starting pitching, played excellent defense and produced runs up and down the lineup.
“Overall , I think we played outstanding,” Trimper said. “We would have liked to have gotten another win or two.”
UMaine’s starting pitching was effective. Freshman righthander Keith Bilodeau had the best outing of the series, spreading out six hits and two runs in eight innings while making his collegiate debut Saturday night.
“Bilodeau goes out and probably has our best performance,” Trimper said. “He was changing speeds and keeping them off-balance.”
Sophomore Matt Jebb and junior Joe Miller also went six solid innings in their starts, while sophomore lefthander Jonathan Balentina kept the Bears in contention on Sunday.
Perhaps the most gritty effort was Sunday’s three-inning stint by freshman righty Matt Klaczkiewicz. He pitched three innings of two-run relief in the finale, helping UMaine escape with a victory.
It came less than 24 hours after Klaczkiewicz replaced injured closer Jimmy Cox of Bangor (without adequate warm-up time) in the ninth inning and walked the only batter he faced in a gut-wrenching 4-3 loss.
“Matt goes out, obviously had a bit of nerves,” Trimper said of Saturday’s outing. “He was devastated.”
However, after some encouraging words from the players and coaches, Trimper again called on Klaczkiewicz on Sunday. He worked three innings, allowing five hits.
“He really stepped up,” Trimper said. “Here’s an 18-year-old kid that goes out there and wins a game.”
The Bears committed only four errors in four games and turned eight double plays. Trimper liked what he saw from the ballclub.
“We also ran bunt coverages, hit some relays and cutoffs and cut down some runs,” Trimper said.
UMaine overcame 5-4 and 8-6 deficits Sunday, scoring twice in the ninth to win its first game of the season.
“They wanted to win that ballgame,” Trimper said. “To come back that next day shows a lot of character. It shows what we’re trying to build, composure and maturity.”
Junior catcher/first baseman Myckie Lugbauer is setting the pace among the batters. He hit .438 with four RBIs, while senior outfielder Kevin McAvoy of Brewer hit .400 with three RBIs.
Junior transfer George Tager achieved an unusual feat Sunday. The Bears’ leadoff hitter got on base six times (four walks, hit by pitch, reached on error) and scored five runs.
“He’s a very valuable guy,” Trimper said. “He has a great idea of the strike zone.”
Bangor’s Cox sidelined
Cox, a sophomore righthander for the Bears, suffered an injury to his right elbow Saturday night and had to leave the game.
He will be evaluated this week to determine the nature and severity of the injury.
The loss of Cox, if for an extended period, will create a hole in the UMaine bullpen, as he was expected to be the closer this spring.
Loss of UVM program troubling
Trimper was understandably disappointed to learn last week that the University of Vermont will drop its baseball program after the 2009 season.
The news really hit home for Trimper, who served as an assistant under Catamounts boss Bill Currier from 1994-98.
“It was devastating to me personally,” Trimper said. “I started my Division I career there and I know Bill. He was one of my mentors and I owe a lot to him.”
Vermont’s departure will leave America East with six baseball programs, the minimum number required to qualify for an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
The change means league baseball teams will eliminate the league bye week in their conference schedules and may have to adjust their non-league slates.
Student-athletes playing baseball at Vermont would have the option of transferring for 2009-2010. And because UVM dropped the sport, the players could transfer without penalty and would be immediately ineligible at their new schools.
Trimper has already been contacted by some Vermont players about the possibility of transferring, but didn’t want to read too much into it.
“Our team here is getting built. There certainly are great players there, but they would have to be the right fit for what are recruiting plans are.”
UMaine field hockey honored
The UMaine field hockey team has once again distinguished itself in the classroom.
Coach Josette Babineau’s Black Bears earned the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Division I National Academic Team Award. The honor recognizes teams that earned a grade point average of 3.0 or higher during the fall semester.
UMaine had 15 girls selected for the America East Academic Honor Roll, which is chosen by the same criterion.