The University of Maine continues to discover that the team that stays together plays well together.
The Black Bears posted a four-game sweep of Maryland Baltimore County over the weekend at Mahaney Diamond in Orono, thrusting them into the battle for second place in the America East baseball standings.
Coach Steve Trimper’s team (19-21, 9-5 AE) owns a season-best, four-game winning streak and has won 10 of its last 13 contests heading into next weekend’s important, three-game series at Albany (17-20, 9-4 AE).
UMaine appears to be demonstrating signs of continued growth as it moves into the last three weeks of league play. The results will determine the field for the four-team America East Conference Baseball Championship, scheduled May 25-27 at the home field of the regular-season champion.
One dynamic that may be less noticeable to UMaine fans is the camaraderie and collective commitment the players are showing behind the scenes.
“Everyone’s getting along really well on and off the field,” said sophomore catcher Tyler Patzalek, who is among the more vocal team members. “I’ve never been part of a team that’s been so gelled off the field, too. I think we’re going to come together and we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
Patzalek pointed to a team meeting held April 17 on the bus ride back from Hartford as helping get all the players on the same page in terms of collective commitment, focus and effort.
The Bears showed an unselfish approach offensively against the Retrievers, doing little things such as executing sacrifice bunts and sacrifice flies, along with hitting the ball to the opposite field.
In the era of less-forgiving metal bats, executing baseball fundamentals is more important than ever to produce runs consistently. UMaine executed six sacrifice bunts, including a squeeze play, hit two sac flies and stole nine bases against UMBC.
“That’s the epitome of how this team plays right now,” Trimper said. “We have to be that way to win the close ballgames.”
The Bears do not have a midweek game this week as UMaine is in the midst of final exams. They are scheduled to take on former league rival Northeastern on May 10 in a 5 p.m. game at Goodall Park in Sanford.
Bears bullpen shines
UMaine received quality starts from Keith Bilodeau and Steve Perakslis over the weekend, but the bullpen was instrumental in securing the other two victories.
In each of the nine-inning games, the Bears were bolstered by outstanding relief pitching.
On Saturday, junior lefthander Jon Balentina pitched 5 1/3 innings of one-hit ball and gave up only one unearned run. He struck out six and walked three.
In Sunday’s finale, junior lefty Kevin Scanlan and freshman righthander D.J. Voisine combined to shut out UMBC on a single hit over the last three innings. Scanlan fanned four of the seven batters he faced.
“(Scanlan) basically was fighting to be able to go out there and pitch again and he did it,” Patzalek said. “He did an outstanding job and it’s just another weapon on a really deep staff.”
In all, the bullpen combined to allow two hits and one run (unearned) with 12 strikeouts and three walks in nine full innings.
Coughlin rests ailing elbow
Shaun Coughlin, who has been among UMaine’s most effective pitchers so far this season, sat out the UMBC series with a minor injury.
Trimper said the 6-foot-3, 220-pound righthander had some soreness in his pitching elbow and sat out as a precautionary measure.
Coughlin is 1-1 and has allowed 36 hits and 14 earned runs in 42 2/3 innings. He has struck out 29 and walked 11. Opponents are batting .235 against him.