STONY BROOK, N.Y. — It is no secret pitching is usually the key to winning a baseball championship.
The University of Maine hopes its staff will perform at a high level when it begins its quest Wednesday for the America East title.
Junior righthander Keith Bilodeau takes the mound Wednesday as coach Steve Trimper’s second-seeded Black Bears (29-22, 18-6 AE) open the tournament with an 11 a.m. contest against No. 3 Binghamton University (21-26, 13-10) at brand-new Joe Nathan Field.
Trimper said the Bears should be able to maintain their focus because of their relaxed demeanor.
“They don’t get too high. They don’t get too low,” he said. “I think that bodes well for us, because they go out there and they’re just thinking about the short term.”
Top seed and host Stony Brook (41-10, 22-2 AE) takes on No. 4 Albany (19-29, 11-11 AE) in Wednesday’s 3 p.m. game.
The four-team, double-elimination continues Thursday with an elimination game between Wednesday’s losers at 11 a.m. and the winners’ bracket contest slated for 3 p.m.
Bilodeau, who on Tuesday was named to the All-America East first team as a starting pitcher, has emerged as the Bears’ top pitcher this season. Wednesday will be his first postseason start.
“I’m just going to do what I’ve been doing all year and keep trying to work batters hard,” Bilodeau said.
Senior co-captain Joey Martin of Portland said the Bears need Bilodeau and the other starters to set a strong tone with their performances.
“The way the tournament’s set up, you need great starts out of your first two pitchers because you’ll be facing the top two pitchers for the other teams,” Martin said.
Sophomore righty Jeff Gibbs, a second-team all-league performer, is expected to get the start Thursday. He was the losing pitcher in last year’s opener against Stony Brook at Vestal, N.Y.
Gibbs is confident UMaine has enough quality pitchers to help the Bears win it all and earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“It’s a lot different in the tournament,” Gibbs said. “You go out there and you give it everything you’ve got. It doesn’t matter how you do personally, you just try to win.”
Assuming it receives quality starts, UMaine has ample depth coming out of the bullpen. The mainstays there include sophomore righthander Steve Perakslis, junior lefthander Jon Balentina, junior righthander A.J. Bazdanes, freshman righthy Shaun Coughlin, frosh righty D.J. Voisine and junior lefty Kevin Scanlan.
“We think we’re very strong with our (Nos.) 3-4-5 guys,” Trimper said. “With that said, if we’re not playing Game 3, it doesn’t mean anything. We need to have Keith and Jeff both come out and have quality starts, have our bullpen pick them up in the later innings and we have to play clean defense and try to manufacture some runs.”
There won’t be many secrets when UMaine takes on Binghamton. The teams met last Friday and Saturday in Orono with the Bears taking three out of four.
That effort gave the Bears confidence about their first-round matchup.
“We feel confident, obviously,” junior Justin Leisenheimer said. “It’s still fresh in our minds and I think we’re a much better team than them.”
UMaine likely will have to deal with Binghamton lefthander James Giulietti (5-5, 5.64 ERA), who shut out the Bears for five innings last Friday in an 8-0 victory.
The Bears hope to take advantage of the same dynamics that have enabled them to remain on a tear during most of conference play.
“We’re just going to go in, have the same kind of attitude we have had the last couple weeks: Play hard, play loose, be loud, have fun — all at the same time,” Martin said.