Ian Leisenheimer was a late addition to the travel squad for the University of Maine’s season-opening baseball trip to Las Vegas last month.
Three weeks later, the redshirt freshman is the team’s leading hitter.
Leisenheimer has taken full advantage of his opportunity. The 6-foot, 230-pounder from Queens, N.Y., whose twin brother Justin also is on the squad, is batting .460 with two home runs and a team-high 17 runs batted in.
He is second on the ballclub in hits (23), on-base percentage (.491) and slugging percentage (.680).
“It’s a Cinderella story,” said UMaine coach Steve Trimper. “I decided at the last minute to get him on the plane [to Las Vegas] because he was swinging the bat well in preseason. We got him a pinch hit; bam, he gets a hit; he gets another big one, [then] another big one.”
Ian Leisenheimer is among many bright spots for UMaine, which is 10-7 overall after going 9-4 on its southern swing. The 10 wins represent half of last year’s season total.
He served as the designated hitter as the Bears feature a fast, deep outfield.
“He’s a very strong hitter,” Trimper said. “He doesn’t have much of a defensive position with some of our other guys just because of [their] speed and arm strength.”
The Bears showed off the kind of offensive production that was reminiscent of the 2006 squad that went to the NCAA Chapel Hill (N.C.) Regional. They averaged 6.7 runs and 11.0 hits on their way to a .328 team batting average.
Other key producers were senior center fielder Billy Cather (.413, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 10 BB, 7 SB), senior right fielder Kevin McAvoy of Brewer (.364, team-best 5 HR, 13 RBI), sophomore third baseman Jarrett Lukas of Old Town (.340, 1 HR, 8 RBI), senior second baseman Danny Menendez (.339, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 7 SB) and junior catcher Myckie Lugbauer (.317, 2 HR, 13 RBI).
“We played pretty consistent as the weeks went on,” Trimper said. “We developed a little bit of mental toughness. We came back from some games that we didn’t get great pitching.”
The Bears got plenty of work for their pitchers while trying to define roles for them. Sophomore righthander Matt Jebb set the tone among the starters, going 2-0 in four starts with a 3.00 earned run average and 14 strikeouts.
Freshman righties Keith Bilodeau (1-2, 3.52, 13) and A.J. Bazdanes (0-0, 1.72, 17) also showed promise, while senior relief specialist Alejandro Balsinde (1-0, 3.97, 1 save) made eight appearances.
Opponents batted only .190 against Bazdanes and .217 against sophomore lefty Kevin Scanlan (1-1, 6.75).
“Pitching-wise, I was really impressed with a lot of our guys,” Trimper said. “I think we’ve got a little more depth on the pitching staff than we’ve ever had.”
The trick for Trimper and his staff will be determining who will start and who will contribute out of the bullpen.
UMaine has played steady defense thus far, committing 25 errors (1.47 per game). The Bears turned 21 double plays.
Trimper said most of the miscues were fielding mistakes on the hard, fast infields in Florida, rather than unforced throwing errors.
“The throwing errors are the ones that concern you and we didn’t make many of those,” Trimper said. “I think we did play very good defense and you look at the number of double plays we turned to get our pitchers out of trouble.”
The Bears returned to Maine on Sunday having developed tremendous confidence in their ability to win baseball games heading into the northern portion of their schedule.
Trimper believes this group is committed to getting UMaine back to the NCAAs with a hardworking, unselfish approach.
“They understand this is a marathon we’re trying to get through and that everybody’s going to have a role,” Trimper said. “They want to compete and they want to win. There’s no big egos with these guys. They’re fun to coach.”
Mahaney not yet clear of snow
The grounds crew at UMaine has been working to clear the snow and ice off Mahaney Diamond in time to play this weekend’s scheduled four-game series against Sacred Heart.
Trimper, who has remained in Florida to do some recruiting, said the efforts continue.
“[Monday] they were going to do a little more work on it and get the mound in shape,” he said. “We’ve got a decent chance [to play] if the weather can stay the way it is.”
Trimper said a decision will be made by Thursday whether to play in Orono or move the games to Eastern Connecticut State in Willimantic.