ORONO, Maine — Resilience is an important quality to possess during the postseason, when momentum can be fleeting and emotions are running high.
The University of Maine baseball team demonstrated its tenacity and ability to bounce back from adversity during its recently completed America East series against Binghamton University at Mahaney Diamond.
Coach Steve Trimper’s Black Bears (29-22, 18-6 AE) overcame an 8-0 opening-game loss to the Bearcats to win the next two games in their final at-bat by scores of 2-1 and 6-5, then capped the series with a 7-2 victory.
“We’ve been finding ways to win games,” Trimper said.
UMaine players were pleased and confident Saturday evening after clinching the No. 2 seed for the America East Baseball Championship. The four-team, double-elimination tournament will be played at Joe Nathan Field on the campus of top-seeded Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y. Maine opens against Binghamton at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
“We played all four games hard,” said senior co-captain Joe Miller. “We dropped the first one, which ended our winning streak, but we kept battling, battling, and we won our last three.”
The series was marked by some different dynamics for UMaine. With a postseason berth already having been sewed up and only seeding at issue, Trimper and his staff split up the pitching duties.
The Bears also utilized a variety of lineup combinations, going with a predominantly righthanded-hitting lineup in the opener against lefthander James Giulietti, the Bearcats’ potential tournament starter. UMaine used a lineup with six lefthanded batters in another game.
Trimper got almost every player a few at-bats and a handful of innings in the field to help keep them sharp for tournament play. The Bears also were able to get work for some lesser-used relievers while resting most of their starters.
While it might have been perceived as taking their foot off the proverbial gas pedal after racking up 11 consecutive victories, the opening-game setback helped UMaine re-establish its intensity and drive.
“We wanted to go into the conference tournament with momentum, so we wanted to take that approach and beat them the last three games,” said senior co-captain Joey Martin of Portland.
Being able to mix and match lineups and get contributions from numerous sources in all facets of the game also continued to develop the Bears’ team chemistry. There is a feeling among the players that everybody has a hand in the team’s success, regardless of their roles.
“It just proves exactly the kind of team that we are,” sophomore catcher Tyler Patzalek said of the last-inning heroics. “Those are team wins and that’s exactly what we’ve become.”
Even though UMaine saw its winning streak halted Friday, it has been playing well during conference play. The Bears have won three in a row and 14 of their last 15.
Since the second day of its opening America East series against Stony Brook, UMaine has won 20 of 24 contests.
“They’re on a little bit of a high and the momentum and all that stuff is great,” Trimper said. “However, the regular season’s done. I don’t mean to be a pessimist, but this is all for naught unless we can go out and continue this stuff into the tournament and play as well as we can.”
With some intangibles working in their favor, the Bears now must execute under the pressure of the postseason. UMaine’s offense was stymied a year ago as it dropped consecutive games to Stony Brook and Binghamton to end the season.
Trimper said it’s a matter of the players refocusing and playing to their capabilities with an NCAA tournament berth riding on the outcome.
No member of the 2011 squad has played on a UMaine team that has won a postseason game. The Bears failed to qualify for the AE tourney in 2008 and ‘09.
UMaine’s last postseason victory came May 25, 2007, a 13-8 second-round win over host Stony Brook at Farmingdale State University.
“Our team is playing aggressively. They’re playing with enthusiasm,” Trimper said. “We’ve just got to continue it into the tournament and anything’s possible.”