STONY BROOK, N.Y. — The sun was beating down and a handful of major league scouts were in the stands Wednesday at Joe Nathan Field.
“Just another day at the Cape, dude,” University of Maine pitcher Keith Bilodeau told teammate Kevin Scanlan before the game, referring to a typical day playing in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
Bilodeau’s performance on the mound Wednesday exhibited a similar level of calm and confidence.
The junior righthander from Bourne, Mass. — on the Cape — scattered seven hits and pitched out of a ninth-inning jam to spearhead the Black Bears to a 4-3 victory over Binghamton in the opening game of the America East Baseball Championship at Stony Brook University.
Bilodeau settled into a comfortable groove and retired 16 consecutive Binghamton batters starting in the fourth inning while spearheading second-seeded UMaine (30-22) into Thursday’s 3 p.m. winners’ bracket game against top-seeded Stony Brook.
“My fastball had really good cut on it and I was throwing hard,” Bilodeau said. “This warm weather makes it fun to play baseball and it makes it easy to stay loose between innings, so it was good.”
It was the Bears’ first postseason win since the 2007 tournament held at Farmingdale, N.Y.
Third-seeded Binghamton (21-27) will play No. 4 Albany.
“Bilodeau pitched lights out,” said junior co-captain Taylor Lewis. “That’s one of the best pitching performances I’ve seen in a long time.”
Bilodeau (10-2) became the first UMaine pitcher to record 10 victories in a season since 1991, when Ben Burlingame accomplished the feat. He threw 131 pitches, 92 of them for strikes, in his longest collegiate outing.
“He hasn’t pitched in heat like this, but he also hasn’t thrown 130 pitches or whatever it was,” Trimper said. “The one thing about Keith, he’s a bulldog and he gets stronger as the game goes on.”
The win didn’t come without some drama.
Bilodeau was within one out of a victory after retiring the first two batters in the ninth inning. He had set down 16 a row before he walked Corey Taylor.
That brought up Jeff Skelhorne-Gross, who reached when shortstop Fransoso failed to handle his grounder. That brought Trimper out for a visit.
“I went to the mound and he gave me the death stare and he said, ‘you’re not bleeping taking make out of the game,’” Trimper said. “I didn’t really go out to take him out. I just wanted to calm him down a little bit.”
Justin Smucker cut the deficit to one run with a line-drive RBI single to right, then Bilodeau had a 1-2 count on Daniel Nevares, who ripped the next pitch off Bilodeau’s right hip. It popped into the air and back toward home plate.
“My first instinct was, oh my goodness, I hope he’s alright,” said catcher Tyler Patzalek, who hustled out, fielded the ball on a hop and fired a throw to first to nip Nevares.
“I knew it was going to be a big play, so I just used my catcher instincts to go get the ball and tried to make the best throw possible,” Patzalek said.
Bilodeau retired the leadoff batter in each of his nine innings and finished with six strikeouts and only one walk.
UMaine managed only six hits against Binghamton lefty James Giulietti (5-6), but posted some key ones. The Bears scored the eventual game-winner in the bottom of the eighth.
Taylor Lewis ignited the rally, lashing a triple to the base of the fence in right-center.
“We had to get something going,” Lewis said. “It does feel great to finally find some green and be able to run the bases like that.”
One out later, Joey Martin of Portland lofted a pop fly into foul ground down the left field line to score Lewis.
“I had a couple deep fly balls early in the game off (Giulietti),” Martin said. “Taylor came up big in the eighth with that leadoff triple and that helped us get the insurance run.”
Binghamton hit Bilodeau hard early, posting six hits in the first four innings. The Bearcats managed only two runs.
Binghamton took a 1-0 lead in the third on a one-out single by Bill Bereszniewicz, a groundout and Dave Ciocchi’s RBI single through the middle.
UMaine answered with two in the bottom of the inning. Ian Leisenheimer worked a leadoff walk, Colin Gay singled to right-center and Troy Black lined a run-scoring single to center.
Lewis bunted Gay over, and Fransoso followed with a sacrifice fly to center field.
Binghamton tied it in the fourth on one-out singles by Taylor and Skelhorne-Gross, a groundout and a balk. That was it until the ninth.
The Bearcats went 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position, stranding three of those in the first four innings. After that, Bilodeau was in command.
“We weren’t worried about it,” Patzalek said. “We knew our defense would come up huge, and when Keith’s faced with adversity, he’s always up for the challenge.”
UMaine went ahead for good in the sixth. Fransoso lined a single to right, advanced on Martin’s sacrifice bunt and rode home when Patzalek stroked a single to center.