June 22, 2018
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Maine tailors bats to new turf

By Pete Warner

ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine baseball team was thrilled to play its first games on the new FieldTurf at Mahaney Diamond.

It wasn’t until Sunday that the Black Bears took advantage of the artificial surface.

UMaine adjusted its offensive approach and hit more balls on the ground and the Bears’ defense capitalized on the truer bounces while turning six double plays while sweeping Sacred Heart 11-2 and 5-3.

Coach Steve Trimper’s squad (12-9) bounced back after the Pioneers (7-9) won Saturday’s twinbill by scores of 4-1 and 7-4.

UMaine prevailed Sunday in a frigid doubleheader that included temperatures in the high 30s, a chilling wind and even some snowflakes.

“It was real cold,” said UMaine senior Kevin McAvoy of Brewer. “I think we did well. I was proud of the team. We fought back after [Saturday] and played well.”

On Sunday, the Bears changed their batting strategy after a Saturday that featured numerous hard-hit fly balls that proved unproductive. UMaine worked harder to make the Pioneers earn it in the field.

In Sunday’s opener, the Bears collected 12 hits and took advantage of six Sacred Heart errors while snapping a three-game losing streak.

Tony Patane, Taylor Lewis and Billy Cather stroked consecutive RBI hits during a three-run second inning that gave the hosts a 4-0 lead.

“[Sunday] we really tried to put it on the ground and make them make plays and they made quite a few errors so it was [successful],” said Cather, who knocked in three runs with two singles in the first game and had two hits in the finale, including a clutch two-run single.

“[Saturday], they were making every play, so that was the difference. We really put pressure on them today rather than popping out,” he said.

The Bears flied out only five times in Sunday’s opener, going 8-for-15 with runners in scoring position. Freshman Lewis provided an RBI triple in the three-run second and a three-run triple in the five-run eighth.

McAvoy finished with three singles, while Myckie Lugbauer doubled and singled and Jarrett Lukas of Old Town hit two RBI singles.

“If we’re going to win baseball games we’ve got to put the ball on the ground, put pressure on [opponents] and you saw it led to five and six errors,” Trimper said. “We kind of put the pressure on them, got them back on their heels a little bit and we persevered.”

Sophomore righthander Matt Jebb (3-0) scattered six hits and two runs through six innings. Jonathan Balentina worked three innings for the save.

“I didn’t really have it in the first four [innings] and I got settled in in the fifth and sixth and started throwing harder and getting the ball down,” said Jebb, who quickly credited the efforts of his defense.

“The turf is fantastic,” Jebb said. “We turned four double plays today and got me out of big jams.”

UMaine put the game out of reach with four runs in the eighth behind Lewis’ triple.

Tyler Santos rapped a double and two singles for Sacred Heart.

In Sunday’s second game, the Bears erupted for five runs in the second inning and pitchers A.J. Bazdanes (1-0) and Alejandro Balsinde (second save) made them stand up.

Bazdanes didn’t have great command but was able to minimize the Pioneers’ threats.

Sacred Heart committed three more errors that led to two unearned runs.

Down 1-0, UMaine struck in the second against loser Mick Oswald (0-1). George Tager stung a one-out single past shortstop, Patane was hit by a pitch and Lewis hit a pop-fly single down the left-field line.

Cather followed with a ground-ball single through the middle that plated two runs. Grounders by Danny Menendez (error), Lugbauer (fielder’s choice) and Justin Leisenheimer (groundout) each scored a run to make it 5-1.

On Saturday, the Pioneers spoiled the christening of the new Mahaney by sweeping the Bears in their earliest home date in program history.

Lefthanded starters Matt Fitton and Jared Balbach survived frequent threats by UMaine.

In Game 1, Fitton gave UMaine fits while pitching a four-hit gem. The 6-foot-8 sophomore kept UMaine off-balance with a selection of fastballs and curveballs. Fitton (2-1) worked out of several jams.

“It was amazing,” Fitton said. “Everything was set up nicely and it was also nice scenery to have five or six feet of snow around the edges of everything.”

The Bears went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

UMaine sophomore lefty Kevin Scanlan (1-2) had difficulty finding a groove early. He allowed six hits and four runs and walked four in the first four innings, but gave up only two hits after that.

Jeff Heppner hit a two-run double and a single among the Pioneers’ eight hits. Santos singled twice.

Leisenheimer paced UMaine with a double and a single. Lukas posted a run-scoring double.

In Game 2, Balbach (3-1) afforded the Bears three runs in five innings, working around nine hits and five walks.

Paul Schmidt stroked a two-run triple in the second inning and Mike Olszyk had a single and two RBIs for Sacred Heart.

Ian Leisenheimer led the Bears with two RBI singles. Lukas doubled and singled with an RBI and Lugbauer added two singles and an RBI behind freshman Keith Bilodeau (1-3).

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