VESTAL, N.Y. — The University of Maine devised a plan of patience to get to Stony Brook ace Nick Tropeano, the America East Co-Pitcher of the Year.
The Seawolves’ sophomore righthander pitched right around the Black Bears’ best-laid plan.
Tropeano held UMaine to four hits and one run in eight innings on a hot Wednesday, leading third-seeded Stony Brook to a 10-1 victory over UMaine in the opening round of the America East Baseball Championship at Binghamton University’s Varsity Field.
“His forte, I believe, is he keeps you guessing,” said Bears senior Tony Patane. “You can never find a groove with that guy because he’s always changing.”
Coach Matt Senk’s Seawolves (27-25) advance to Thursday’s 3 p.m. winners’ bracket game against No. 4 Albany, which beat No. 1 Binghamton 9-6 in the afternoon game.
Coach Steve Trimper’s No. 2 Black Bears (34-21) are relegated to Thursday’s 11 a.m. losers’ bracket contest against Binghamton.
UMaine plans to remain poised and motivated, despite needing three consecutive victories to claim the conference championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“Whatever doesn’t break you makes you stronger. That’s what I just told the guys,” Trimper said. “Our spirit’s good and we’ve got to come back. We can win this thing if we come back and play well.”
Tropeano, who held UMaine to three hits in a 7-3 victory May 1 in Orono, was again on top of his game. Despite having only four days’ rest since a Friday start against Binghamton, he commanded his slider and changeup with a handful of fastballs mixed in.
Tropeano (8-3) struck out six and walked four, throwing 129 pitches.
“We had a plan against him. It was trying to drive his pitch count up, keep the game close and get to their bullpen,” Trimper said.
“He got behind 1-0, 2-0 and he’d come back and give us pitches that were strikes and pitches we couldn’t hit. They were pitcher’s pitches in hitter’s counts.”
Bears freshman righthander Jeff Gibbs (5-4) was steady for five innings, but was lifted after giving up a run and three hits in the sixth.
Gibbs had worked out of two-out jams in the first and third innings and left the bases loaded in the fifth.
“He battled,” said UMaine senior Joe Mercurio. “He gave us everything we had and that’s all we could ask. We just kind of fell apart in the sixth inning.”
UMaine’s bullpen was unable to slow the Seawolves once they got on the board. Keith Bilodeau surrendered six hits and four runs in two innings as Stony Brook built an 8-0 lead after seven.
The Seawolves piled up 15 hits against four UMaine pitchers, led by a double, two singles and two RBIs by Chad Marshall. Pat Cantwell singled twice with two RBIs and Justin Echevarria knocked in three runs with a two-run double and a bases-loaded walk.
“[Gibbs] battled, he kept us close and our bullpen just didn’t hold it, which was unlike it,” Trimper said.
Mercurio was the only repeat hitter for UMaine with two singles, including one off Tropeano. Patane doubled among the Bears’ five hits.
Stony Brook, which had gone 0-for-5 with runners in scoring positing during the first five innings, broke it open in the sixth.
America East Rookie of the Year William Carmona opened the frame with an opposite-field single to left, then Tanner Nivins walked. Maxx Tissenbaum loaded the bases by flaring a single to left field.
Justin Echevarria, the No. 9 hitter, worked a bases-loaded walk to get SBU on the board, spelling the end for Gibbs.
Bilodeau came on and was greeted by Cantwell’s run-scoring single and a two-run single to right by Marshall on his first two pitches. The Seawolves got the fifth run on a double-play grounder.
Stony Brook tacked on three runs in the seventh on a leadoff single by Michael Stephan, one-out singles but Nivins and Tissenbaum, and a two-out double inside the bag at third base by Echevarria. Cantwell added a sacrifice fly to make it 8-0.
UMaine scored once in the seventh when Tyler Patzalek reached on a fielder’s choice, Justin Leisenheimer singled off the glove of third baseman Stephen Marino, and Matt Howard sliced an RBI double down the right-field line.
However, Tropeano induced Pat Thibodeau of Caribou to pop out to shortstop to escape further trouble.