VESTAL, N.Y. — There were hugs and some tears Thursday afternoon at Varsity Field.
The University of Maine’s 6-0 loss to host Binghamton in the second round of the America East Baseball Championship marked the end of the Black Bears’ 2010 season.
It also was the last collegiate game for six seniors who helped lead coach Steve Trimper’s team back to the postseason for the first time in three years.
Catcher Joe Mercurio, shortstop Tony Patane, relief pitchers Justin Latta and Barry Keiffer, catcher Myckie Lugbauer and outfielder George Tager played important roles in shepherding a squad laden with underclassmen to a 34-22 record.
“It always sucks losing, so it’s sad to see teammates and friends go,” said junior Joey Martin of Portland.
UMaine’s two-and-done appearance in the league tournament wasn’t the outcome it wanted, especially after winning nine of its last 10 regular-season games.
“You always want to win your last game and we just came up a little short,” said co-captain Mercurio, who had a career year while batting .363 with a team-best 12 home runs, 19 doubles and 58 runs batted in.
However, the Bears scored only one run in two postseason games, including none Thursday.
“A couple of guys are taking it tough, but you can’t win with no runs and the scoreboard says we don’t have any,” Mercurio said. “We played our hearts out.”
Patane, another captain, finished the campaign at .330 (4 HRs, 47 RBIs, 18 doubles) and helped UMaine turn 67 double plays in 2010 and 138 in two seasons.
Latta (4-2, 3.13 earned run average, five saves) and Keiffer (3-1, 4.14) were the Bears’ bullpen mainstays, especially late in games.
“It’s going to be tough losing those guys, especially Latta and Barry. They had 51 appearances between them and I think 90 innings,” said junior co-captain Matt Jebb.
Jebb said the seniors will be missed on many fronts.
“The seniors really provide a good foundation for us,” Jebb said. “They kept the young guys in line, along with some help from me, and they really helped the team, gave us a chance to win.”
Jebb ends Binghamton struggles
While there was no victory to show for it, Jebb walked off Binghamton University’s Varsity Field feeling as though he had redeemed himself.
The 6-foot-6, 249-pound righthanded pitcher held the Bearcats to five hits and a run in 7ª innings of relief Thursday. It was a vast improvement over his two previous appearances here.
“This field kind of owed me something,” said Jebb, who had been roughed up for eight hits and seven earned runs in two-thirds of an inning in his April 18 start at Binghamton.
He also gave up seven hits and six earned runs in 4ª innings in his 2008 outing against the Bearcats.
However, Jebb was highly effective ever since that outing. In his last six appearances, he posted a 2-0 record with one save.
Jebb afforded opponents 24 hits and only four earned runs in 27¤ innings, good for a 1.32 ERA. He struck out 19 and walked six.
“I had a really rough start, but I’ve just been working hard, working with pitching coach [Aaron] Izaryk, trying to get my pitches for strikes,” Jebb said. “Once I started throwing strikes [regularly] I was helping the team win, which I always try and do.”Jebb does not plan to pitch this summer, but instead will try to get rested and healthy to prepare for his senior season.
Mercurio to try coaching
While he waits to find out whether he might get an opportunity to play professional ball, UMaine catcher Mercurio will still be wearing a uniform.
Mercurio has signed on to serve as an assistant coach this summer with the Glens Falls Eagles of the New York Collegiate Baseball League.
He has expressed an interest in coaching once his playing days are done and Mercurio will have the chance to work with college-age players in his home state’s summer wooden-bat league.
“I was trying to get a couple of our [UMaine] guys on the team, but we’ve got a full roster,” Mercurio said.