ORONO, Maine — Kyle Stilphen has been mired in an early-season slump.
The University of Maine third baseman went into Sunday’s doubleheader against Lehigh at Mahaney Diamond with a .185 batting average.
However, Stilphen went 4-for-6 and was on base six times in helping the Black Bears sweep the Mountain Hawks.
In Sunday’s finale, a 10-9 UMaine victory, the sophomore from Pittston went 4-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored, including the game-winner.
“It’s great to get back home and be playing out here in front of all our home fans and just get back into the swing of things,” said the former Gardiner High baseball and football star.
Stilphen hopes things are coming together after his early struggles. That included missing the Oregon State series because he developed a fear of flying after UMaine’s flight from North Carolina to Florida at the beginning of the Black Bears’ southern trip.
With air travel behind him for the remainder of the season — barring a trip to an NCAA Regional — Stilphen has been working to get into a good groove at the plate.
“[The weekend off] gave me a lot of time to work on a lot of things that I’d been struggling with,” he explained. “I got into it the last game and finally started swinging. I’m just seeing the ball a lot better.”
Stilphen played a role in UMaine’s big innings in Sunday’s second game. He doubled and scored during the Bears’ three-run second inning, then hit an RBI single and scored amidst a five-run fifth.
In the ninth, Stilphen’s one-out single plated Taylor Lewis with the tying run and he later scored on a one-out single by senior co-captain Tony Patane.
“I think the biggest play for him was, he drove a double in the gap today,” UMaine coach Steve Trimper said of the opposite-field hit. “He saw the ball better. He’s almost got to be that kind of hitter that sits [on pitches] middle-away and reacts to inside, and that’s what he did that approach.
Patane is confident Stilphen will be productive at the plate.
“It’s really nice to see the kind of adjustments Stilphen makes,” Patane said. “He’s always working by himself.
“I always knew he was going to come around,” he added.
Matt Howard has not played a lot this season for UMaine, but answered the call Sunday.
The junior started both games in right field after starting first baseman/outfielder Joey Martin suffered a back injury during pregame batting practice.
Howard went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored to help the Bears sweep. He lined a run-scoring triple in Sunday’s second game.
“He’s a phenomenal kid and it’s just so good because he works so hard,” Patane said. “It was great for him to step up. We all loved it.”
Howard, who played only five games in 2009 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, was particularly successful moving runners. He hit an RBI single and a sacrifice fly in Sunday’s opener, then executed two sacrifice bunts in the finale.
“He’s a great bunter and a great baserunner, probably one of our best on the team,” Trimper said. “I’m happy for him. He gets a chance to go out there and have a pretty good day.”
Lewis was named the America East Player of the Week after a well-rounded series against Lehigh.
The sophomore center fielder batted .429 (6-for-14) with three RBIs, five runs scored and three stolen bases in the series.
“He had another one of those weekends where he went off, especially against righthanded pitching,” Trimper said. “He’s starting to run the bases a little bit better, so you see him taking some jumps and stealing some bases.”
Lewis, who appeared in 35 games last season, has filled the void left in center field by Billy Cather, who is now a volunteer assistant with the program. Lewis, a lefthanded batter, leads UMaine and ranks third in America East with a .389 batting average.
He has legged out six triples to go with two homers and a team-best 23 runs batted in. Lewis also is 7-for-7 in stolen bases.
“He’s limiting his strikeouts and he’s putting the ball in play as much as he can,” Patane said. “His eye has gotten a lot better since last year and his speed alone is going to take him so far here. You never slump with speed.”
Bear tracks: Patane has hit safely in 12 of his last 14 games … Freshman Mike Fransoso had an 11-game hitting streak snapped when he went 0-for-3 in Sunday’s first game … Sophomore Ian Leisenheimer has gone nine games without an RBI … Freshman Tyler Patzalek has at least one RBI in seven of the last nine games … Sophomore Justin Leisenheimer snapped a six-game hitless streak when he went 3-for-3 with a triple, a double and two RBIs in Sunday’s opener … Martin had hit in five straight games prior to missing Sunday’s games with an injury.
Brenna Walsh, a member of UMaine’s cross country and track and field teams, has been named the 2010 Outstanding Undergraduate International Student of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
The senior from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is being recognized for her academic performance, her involvement in scientific research and her dedication to her athletic teams.
Walsh, who is majoring in chemistry, will be honored April 13 during the college’s Faculty and Student Awards reception at the Buchanan Alumni House. She also will be feted May 7 during the UMaine Honors Convocation at the Collins Center for the Arts.
In athletics, Walsh was sixth in the 3,000 meters at the New England indoor championships, while she competed on the Black Bears’ America East runner-up cross country team.