VESTAL, N.Y. — Jeff Gibbs established himself as the University of Maine’s No. 1 starter early in the season, but has not been as sharp down the stretch.
Today, the freshman righthander from Toronto, Ontario, takes the mound as coach Steve Trimper’s Black Bears make their return to postseason play in the America East Baseball Championship.
“This is going to be maybe the most important game I’ve ever pitched,” Gibbs said prior to Tuesday’s practice. “All the guys here really want to go to the (NCAA) tournament this year. It’s going to be really important for me to do well.”
Second-seeded UMaine (34-20) opens the four-team, double-elimination event against No. 3 Stony Brook (26-25) with an 11 a.m. game at Varsity Field, home of Binghamton University. Top seed Binghamton (30-18) and No. 4 Albany (11-38) meet in the 3 p.m. contest.
Pitching and defense are likely to dictate which team earns an NCAA regional berth. All four America East competitors have proven No. 1s in co-pitchers of the year Nick Tropeano (Stony Brook) and James Giulietti (Binghamton), Dave Kubiak (Albany) and Gibbs.
“They’ve got good enough stuff that if they’re on, they can beat anyone in the conference,” Trimper said.
“Gibbs gives us, we believe, our best shot to beat them (SBU),” he added. “He’s a guy that’s going to keep us in the baseball game.”
Gibbs, an All-America East second-team and All-Rookie selection, sports a 5-3 record and a team-best 3.71 earned run average. He has allowed 73 hits with 69 strikeouts in 70¤ innings.
Gibbs has been bothered by some arm fatigue in recent weeks, but has been held back by the coaching staff. He did not pitch in last week’s four-game series at Maryland Baltimore County and worked only 3¤ innings in his previous start (May 15) against Albany.
Gibbs proclaimed himself ready to go prior to Tuesday’s practice session.
“It’s a been a long freshman year, a lot of wear and tear on my arm, so I was fortunate to get a week off this week and my arm feels a lot better,” Gibbs said.
“I feel like I’m back to a hundred percent, so I’m ready to go and pitch against Stony Brook,” he added.
Trimper is confident not only in Gibbs, but in his pitching staff as a whole. He believes UMaine has enough talent and depth to help the Bears negotiate four postseason games in three days, if needed.
Sophomore A.J. Bazdanes is scheduled to start UMaine’s game Thursday, while the Bears have versatile pitchers in sophomore Keith Bilodeau and junior Matt Jebb who can be used out of the bullpen in the first two games or get a start later in the tournament.
The Bears also feature senior relievers Justin Latta and Barry Keiffer, along with freshman Steve Perakslis and senior Joe Miller.
“In the tournament, it’s a win-at-all-costs situation, so if a guy doesn’t look that sharp or gets a little tired early, we can go to a lot of our guys,” Trimper said. “We have enough depth to come through this tournament.”
Trimper wants his Bears to remain poised and patient as they move into the postseason against a formidable Stony Brook team.
“You win it by playing loose and taking them one at a time,” he said. “They’ve (SBU) got good front-line pitching, they play great defense and they have a pretty potent lineup.”
The Bears are excited about having the chance to play for a conference championship and an NCAA berth.
“I think if we just relax and play the way that we should, great things could happen for us,” Gibbs said.