ORONO — Joe Miller has endured a forgettable season for the University of Maine.
The Black Bears senior baseball co-captain celebrated “Senior Day” with his best outing of 2011.
Miller pitched five strong innings Saturday in his first start of the season, helping UMaine complete a sweep of its America East doubleheader with a 7-2 victory over Binghamton at Mahaney Diamond.
“I think that was one of the highlights of the whole year,” offered sophomore catcher Tyler Patzalek. “Everyone loves Joe Miller, he’s the greatest teammate.
“Him coming out like that, it was really impressive,” he added.
UMaine won the opener 6-5 in dramatic fashion, helping coach Steve Trimper’s ballclub end the regular season with a three-game win streak.
The Bears (29-22, 18-6 AE) are the No. 2 seed in the America East Baseball Championship, a four-team, double-elimination tournament that begins Wednesday in Stony Brook, N.Y. UMaine again faces Binghamton (21-26, 13-10 AE), the No. 3 seed, in the opening game.
Stony Brook swept Albany again Saturday, setting up a first-round meeting Wednesday afternoon between the top-seeded Seawolves (41-10, 22-2 AE) and the No. 4 Great Danes (19-29, 11-11 AE).
The winner of the tournament earns an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
“That was a big team win for us, because it kept momentum on our side going into the tournament,” Trimper said. “I think our guys played extremely hard this weekend.”
In the second game, Miller gave the Bears five quality innings to help lighten the load on the bullpen in preparation for the tournament.
Miller, coming off Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in 2009, has had a long road back. On Saturday, he allowed only four hits.
“I felt great today, everything was clicking,” said Miller, who went into the game having pitched only 7 2/3 innings all season.
“I haven’t started since (last) summer, so it felt unreal to get out there and start the game off,” he added. “The season was a struggle for me, but finishing off the way I did, I can’t be happier.”
Patzalek and Colin Gay each provided a two-run single to support Shaun Coughlin (3-1), who earned his second relief win of the day. He allowed only two hits in 2 2/3 shutout innings.
D.J. Voisine pitched 1 1/3 hitless innings to finish the game.
“Game 4 was going to pit the bullpens and guys that haven’t pitched much,” Trimper said. “We knew that, especially after we got the (No.) 2 seed. Senior Day, I thought it was a great time for Joe Miller to go out and throw.”
Junior Justin Leisenheimer knocked in three runs with a two-run home run and an RBI single, while Michael Fransoso doubled and singled and Taylor Lewis added two singles.
With the score knotted 2-2, UMaine took the lead for good by scoring four times in the sixth inning.
Michael Fransoso worked a leadoff walk against reliever Mark Palumbo (0-1) before Martin laid down a bunt single and both runners advanced on an errant throw to first. One out later, Patzalek lined a two-run single to center field.
Alex Calbick’s double and a two-out, two-run single by Colin Gay gave the Bears a 6-2 lead.
“After that (Friday) loss, we kind of took it to heart and said, even though this series might not mean as much, with just seeding on the line, we want to go into the conference tournament with momentum,” Martin said. “We wanted to take that approach and beat them the last three games.”
Daniel Nevares’ RBI single in the third inning paced Binghamton.
In Saturday’s opener, Justin Leisenheimer inadvertently blew through a “stop” sign at third base and scored all the way from first on a two-out error in the bottom of the seventh inning with the winning run.
Leisenheimer, who had stroked a two-out single off reliever Lee Sosa (0-2), snuck under the tag of catcher C.J. Lukaszewski with a head-first slide.
“Coach Trimper was saying ‘no, no, no’ and I thought he was saying ‘go, go, go,’” Leisenheimer said. “I wasn’t supposed to score. I saw that he (the right fielder) had just picked up the ball and I was like, let’s end this game now.”
Patzalek set the play in motion, hitting a high chopper to third base that was thrown away by Mike Thompson.
Coughlin earned the win with 1 2/3 innings of hitless relief. Starter Kevin Scanlan surrendered 12 hits, including four infield singles. He was lifted after giving up three runs in the fifth and one in the sixth.
Calbick doubled and singled while Patzalek and Leisenheimer posted two singles each for UMaine, which scored three unearned runs. Binghamton committed three errors.
Bill Bereszniewicz stroked a double and two singles for the Bearcats and Smucker singled three times. Dave Ciocchi added two singles and Peter Bregartner registered a two-run single.
The Bears came from behind in the fifth and sixth innings.
In the fifth, Fransoso yanked a one-out double inside the first-base bag, stole third and rode home on Martin’s line-drive sacrifice fly to left.
Calbick lined an opposite-field single down the line in left to lead off the sixth inning. He moved up on Ian Leisenheimer’s sacrifice bunt, then scored on a wild pitch.