It has been a gradual growth process so far this season for the University of Maine baseball team.
The Black Bears’ progress has been slowed by the April Fools’ Day snowstorm that has marred a planned series against Bryant at Mahaney Diamond in Orono. The teams are scheduled to play a doubleheader Sunday at 1 p.m., field conditions permitting.
UMaine coach Steve Trimper said Friday night every attempt will be made to clear the FieldTurf surface of the snow.
“We’ve got a couple of snowblowers from the university and 30 shovels. We’re going to run the team out and start shoveling (at 8 a.m. Saturday) and see how far we can get.”
Ever the optimist, Trimper was concerned as the snow continued to fall heavily Friday night.
“There’s not much you can do. We’re going to give it our best effort,” he said.
UMaine (9-16) is coming off a solid weekend in the Fairleigh Dickinson Baseball Classic held in Jersey City, N.J. The Bears have won three straight behind strong pitching and opportunistic offense.
“We’ve got room to grow yet and we’ve got to get guys a little more accustomed to playing college baseball to go with the veterans that we have,” Trimper said.
“Hopefully, our veteran pitching staff, as we go into conference play, can keep us in ballgames,” he added.
The pitching staff has shouldered a bit more of the pressure thus far as the Bears attempt to fast-forward several freshmen into the regular positional rotation.
Despite going 4-4 in its last eight games, UMaine has received excellent contributions from its pitchers. Over the last two weekends, the Bears have limited opponents to a .248 batting average (5.8 runs per game) with a sparkling 1.38 earned run average.
UMaine has struck out 56 and walked 30 in the same time period.
The two most effective pitchers the last two weeks have been sophomore righthander Steve Perakslis and freshman righty Shaun Coughlin.
Perakslis (2-4) worked seven innings of seven-hit, one-run ball in Sunday’s 5-1 win over FDU and allowed only two hits and one run in seven innings the previous weekend at Rider.
“When pitchers are on like that, it speeds up the game, kind of picks up our tempo. We’re in the game more,” said senior co-captain Joey Martin of Portland.
Coughlin is coming off his first college start and victory against St. Peter’s during which he fashioned a five-hit, one-run gem with eight strikeouts and no walks.
“He’s been pitching great out of the bullpen. We wanted to try and give him a start to see if he can do it,” Trimper said. “He did a great job.”
In 10 appearances, Coughlin has allowed only 23 hits in 26 1/3 innings, striking out 16 and walking nine on his way to a 1.17 ERA.
“I don’t overpower a lot, but I do keep the ball down and hit my spots,” said the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder from Northfield, Conn.
UMaine is averaging only 5.0 runs per game while batting .267 as a unit. Much of that can be attributed to the fact first-year players regularly occupy at least four starting spots — third base, shortstop, second base, and one outfield position.
Junior center fielder Taylor Lewis (.343, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 10 stolen bases) is the only starter batting over .300. Outfielder/first baseman Martin is next (.295, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 5 SB).
While the Bears didn’t pound the ball last weekend, they found ways to score runs. That included remaining patient at the plate.
Martin was on base 10 times in the FDU tourney, including eight walks, a double and a triple.
“We didn’t have a lot of hits, we had timely hitting, which is just as good as getting a single with no one on and two outs,” Martin said. “We also ran the bases very well.”
With 25 games under their belts, the Bears believe they are starting to develop some chemistry and camaraderie, along with a sense of purpose in working together to win.
“Coming together as a team is very important. I think that’s what we did this weekend is mesh as a team,” said freshman third baseman Alex Calbick, who had a team-high four RBIs in New Jersey.