STONY BROOK, N.Y. — The University of Maine baseball team had a 6:30 a.m. wakeup call on Wednesday.
Even with an 8:30 a.m. batting practice slot, the Black Bears jumped on the bus with plenty of energy on a gorgeous, sunny day on Long Island. UMaine parlayed that into an opening-round victory over Binghamton in the America East Baseball Championship.
“It was an intense game after that early wakeup this morning,” offered Bears sophomore catcher Tyler Patzalek. “We came to the field and everyone on the bus was jacked up to come out here and play.”
UMaine tempered its energy level, especially dealing with the heat and bright sun, and outlasted the Bearcats.
Winning the opener provides a much better view of the tournament for coach Steve Trimper’s Bears. UMaine now can take control with a victory over No. 1 Stony Brook on Thursday afternoon.
“We’re guaranteed at least two more games in this tournament to show what we can do and keep battling,” said senior co-captain Joey Martin. “Hopefully, we can get a win (Thursday) and get into the championship (round).”
Along with the confidence generated by the victory, the complete-game pitching performance of junior righthander Keith Bilodeau has preserved the remainder of the staff for whatever comes next.
“Getting a complete game is huge for us now, just in case we do have to fight through a losers’ bracket later on in this tournament,” Trimper said.
That said, UMaine is collectively looking no further than Thursday’s second-round game.
“Game 2 is all that matters to us,” Trimper said. “We’re not thinking about the end of this tournament or anything.”
Even though the Bears aren’t scoring a ton of runs, they’ve been able to produce enough to get the job done. UMaine has now won 15 of its last 16 games, in part because of its ability to play a little “small ball.”
The Bears succesfully moved runners into scoring position with bunts Wednesday against Binghamton. They also took advantage by bringing in the runs.
Michael Fransoso hit a sacrifice fly and Patzalek provided an RBI single in those situations.
“We’re coming up with the big hits and that’s what you need, especially at tournament time,” said junior Taylor Lewis. “We need to keep it rolling.”
UMaine did miss one chance to move a runner with a bunt and then got the runner picked off.
Bilodeau shows determination
Even with a victory on the line and his energy somewhat diminished by a long outing, Bilodeau wanted to finish what he had started Wednesday.
With runners at first and second and UMaine leading 4-2 with two out in the ninth inning, the veteran stood his ground when Trimper went to the mound for a visit.
“I told him I wanted the game, but it was a good feeling,” Bilodeau said. “Coach makes the calls, but I told him how I felt and he went with it.”
Despite giving up an RBI single on the next pitch, Bilodeau induced a line drive that hit him in the hip and resulted in the final out.
Lewis cashes in with triple
Lewis had a little extra incentive when he went up to the plate to lead off the top of the eighth inning in Wednesday’s contest.
As the Bears tried to get Lewis and the upcoming batters fired up, Ian Leisenheimer gave Lewis a reason to get a hit. He offered to buy his teammate a Denny’s “Grand Slam” breakfast.
Leisenheimer will have to set a few dollars aside to pay off the promise.