The University of Maine baseball team is experiencing some early-season growing pains during its annual swing through Florida.
Coach Steve Trimper’s Black Bears took a 3-9 record into Tuesday’s 6 p.m. game against fifth-ranked Florida State (10-1) in Tallahassee.
UMaine has received inconsistent pitching, endured some defensive struggles and has run into some outs on the bases.
“It’s a good training ground,” Trimper said of the challenging trip, which includes games against the likes of Stetson, Central Florida and Florida State. “I focus so much on winning every game, but I have to also be a realist that we’re putting our guys in adverse situations to become better.”
The Bears have been using several newcomers, including second baseman Eric White of Brewer, shortstop Mike Connolly , third baseman Alex Calbick , outfielder Colin Gay and catcher Matt Verrier of Norway, along with redshirt freshman outfielder Fran Whitten.
The Bears’ pitching has been slow to round into shape.
Junior righthander Keith Bilodeau, the America East Pitcher of the Week, and sophomore righty Jeff Gibbs have been among the bright spots.
Bilodeau is 1-0 with a 3.32 earned run average and 22 strikeouts in 19 innings. His most recent outing was a seven-inning “no decision” Sunday against Rollins during which he scattered nine hits and three earned runs, striking out eight and walking three.
Gibbs is 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings. Opponents are batting .240 against him.
Sophomore Steve Perakslis, juniors A.J. Bazdanes, Jon Balentina and Kyle Benoit and senior Joe Miller have struggled thus far.
“The key is getting guys that have done it before to settle down,” Trimper said of veterans like Balentina and Miller.
The Bears are without junior lefthander Kevin Scanlan, who did not make the trip. Trimper said Scanlan, who missed last season because of academic difficulties, is being held out of action, but would not divulge the reason.
Here are some of the positive developments thus far for UMaine:
Sophomore shortstop Michael Fransoso has made a speedy return to the field after undergoing surgery in January on his right hip. He has played in six games, starting four, since the Bears arrived in Florida.
“He’s doing a good job,” Trimper said. “He was going to take another week or two, but he felt great and the doctor cleared him.”
Fransoso is off to a tough start at the plate, batting only .059 (1-for-17), but Trimper isn’t concerned.
“He’s had some pretty good at-bats,” Trimper said. “He’s actually barreled up some balls. He had the game-winning hit (Sunday).”
Fransoso provides a veteran presence in the infield between Calbick at third base and White at second. White has been among the freshmen to make a speedy transition to the Division I game.
The former Brewer High standout has started nine of 11 games. He’s batting a robust .360 (9-for-25) with four RBIs. He has committed one error.
“He’s been hitting the ball, playing pretty good defense. He certainly has won a (starting) job,” said Trimper, who praised White’s approach.
“He’s playing one pitch at a time. He’s not trying to do too much,” he said.
UMaine’s other offensive catalysts have been junior center fielder Taylor Lewis and senior first baseman Joey Martin of Portland.
Lewis is hitting .375 with two home runs, 10 runs batted in and six stolen bases. He leads the club with 15 runs scored.
Martin is batting .302 with a homer and 10 RBIs.
Pollard commits to UMaine men’s basketball
Xavier Pollard, a postgraduate player at The Winchendon (Mass.) School, has verbally committed to attend the University of Maine on a scholarship next season.
The 6-foot-2 combination guard made his decision after a recent recruiting visit to Orono, according to New England Recruiting Report.
Pollard, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., was the leading scorer for coach Matthew Quinn’s team, which went 9-20 this season.
“The coaching staff has been in contact with me for a long time and showed me a lot of love from day one,” Pollard told NERR.
Pollard previously played three seasons at Suffield Academy in Connecticut, where he twice led the team in scoring and assists to earn consecutive spots on the All-Western New England team.
At UMaine, Pollard will join a returning nucleus that includes senior point guards Raheem Singleton and Andrew Rogers and senior shooting guard Gerald McLemore.
“They told me they needed someone who could play right away and create for their teammates,” Pollard said, “pretty much someone who could break the defense down and get his teammates open.”
Pollard made his decision while visiting UMaine Feb. 26-27 along with 6-7 Finnish forward Kilian Cato, who also committed to the Black Bears.
UMaine coach Ted Woodward is not allowed to comment on recruits until the university has received a signed National Letter of Intent. The late signing period begins in April.