When the 2011 season began for the University of Maine baseball team, there were concerns about the squad’s youth.
Coach Steve Trimper’s Black Bears headed for Las Vegas 11 weeks ago with five freshmen penciled into the starting lineup. That included first-year players at three infield positions.
This year’s freshman class has made the collective adjustment to the Division I game. It will be counted on again this weekend as UMaine plays a key America East three-game series at Albany.
While the group has experienced some challenges during the transition, it has helped UMaine (19-21, 9-5 AE) develop into a postseason contender and possible America East title challenger.
On average, UMaine has started almost four freshmen per game in the field and nearly five have played in every contest.
“The good thing about this team is, they are young, but they’re getting better every week,” Trimper said. “That’s a really good sign going down the stretch.”
With 40 games under their belts, the newcomers are performing more consistently as time progresses. That has occurred in spite of frequent lineup and positional changes implemented by Trimper and his staff since the start of the season.
Mike Connolly began the season at shortstop with sophomore Michael Fransoso recovering from January hip surgery. Classmates Eric White of Brewer and Troy Black split time at second base, while freshman Alex Calbick got the nod at third base.
When Fransoso returned to the lineup, that left Black, White and Connolly to split the duty at second base, giving the Bears lefthanded (White) and righthanded (Connolly, Black) batting options. Black and Connolly have demonstrated improved offensive skills.
The result was giving Connolly some time at third base and moving Calbick to the designated hitter role in some games. Even moving players around — and in and out of the lineup — the group has performed well.
In league play, UMaine leads America East with a .990 fielding percentage. Overall, the freshmen have fielded at a .957 clip and have participated in 44 double plays.
“We have a very good infield,” Trimper said. “We knew all along we were going to have a very good defense, they were just going to be young. It’s going to bode well for the future.”
UMaine also has received regular contributions from first-year outfielder Colin Gay and redshirt freshman outfielder/catcher Fran Whitten, along with freshman pitchers Sean Coughlin and D.J. Voisine and catcher Matt Verrier of Norway.
In Saturday’s doubleheader sweep of Maryland Baltimore County, the freshmen batted .667 (12-for-18) with nine RBIs and seven runs scored.
Black said the veterans have been supportive of the newcomers.
“I think a lot of it has to do with our older guys,” said Black, who has been among the Bears’ hottest hitters of late, going 12-for-29 (.414) in his last nine games.
“They’re making us feel comfortable,” Black explained. “We don’t feel like freshmen any more. We feel like contributors to the team, which we are.”
Black is the leading hitter among freshmen with a .391 average and nine runs batted in in 19 games, including 13 starts. Calbick, who has started all 40 games, checks in at .259 (2 home runs, 18 RBI).
Connolly (31 games) is batting .264 with a homer, 10 RBIs and six stolen bases), followed by Whitten (33 G, .255-3-11), Verrier (12G, .231-0-2), White (28 G, .222-0-7) and Gay (33 G, .221-0-8).
Combined, the first-year players are batting .259 with 65 RBIs and 65 runs scored.
Righthanders Coughlin and Gay have established themselves well, despite joining a veteran pitching staff.
Coughlin (1-1) leads the staff with 15 appearances, 13 in relief, and a 2.95 earned run average. Opposing batters are hitting only .235 against him.
Voisine, a midyear transfer from the University of Connecticut, is 1-1 with a 3.05 ERA.
The freshmen have been able to develop confidence despite stepping into key roles.
“A lot of the freshmen are stepping up,” Calbick said. “We feel comfortable and that’s the key to our success.”
“When these guys play with confidence, we’re a pretty good ballclub,” Trimper added.
With their first academic year coming to a close this week, the freshmen should be able to relax and just play baseball for the next three weeks or so.
“They’ve played 40 games, so they’re starting to not be freshmen any more,” said senior co-captain Joey Martin of Portland. “They kind of know (what it takes).”
Hersoms receive NFF academic honor
Twin brothers Mike Hersom and Tom Hersom, both junior defensive backs on the Husson University football team, are among 671 players from 241 schools nationwide named to the 2011 National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame Hampshire Honor Society.
The NFF Hampshire Honor Society capitalizes on the NFF’s current National Scholar-Athlete program, greatly expanding the number of scholar-athletes the NFF can recognize each year and further strengthening the organization’s leadership role in encouraging academic performance by the student-athletes who play football at the more than 700 college and universities with football programs nationwide.
Qualifications for membership in the NFF Hampshire Honor Society include being a starter or significant substitute in one’s previous year of eligibility at an accredited NCAA or NAIA college or university; achieving a 3.2 cumulative grade point average; and meeting all NCAA-mandated progress toward degree requirements and graduation.
Both Mike and Tom Hersom played in all 10 games for the Eagles last fall, with Tom ranking third on the team with 59 tackles and Mike in on 40 tackles, sixth on the team.