STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Perhaps the most important lesson learned Thursday by the University of Maine baseball team is the continued need for poise in the heat of tournament play.
The Black Bears were able to overcome the emotion and intensity of playing host Stony Brook in front of the Seawolves’ vocal fans during an 8-1 second-round victory in the America East Baseball Championship at Joe Nathan Field.
Even though emotions ran high during the contest, especially as UMaine took a 4-1 lead on Michael Fransoso’s two-run home run in the fifth inning, it was a reminder of the need to harness that energy.
“It has nothing to do with who we’re playing, we’re just taking one game at a time and we’re just trying to play our best baseball,” said UMaine coach Steve Trimper. “There’s a bubble over our team right now. No one’s going to break it. That’s the kind of attitude we’re taking right now.”
Freshman Alex Calbick said the tournament atmosphere definitely adds to the playing experience.
“It was awesome. It was a good atmosphere, fans cheering,” he said. “We just played a great game, all together.”
To the Bears’ credit, they did not fall apart despite encountering a handful of tough situations.
UMaine made one error each in the fifth and sixth innings and committed two in the fifth. They resulted in only one run for the Seawolves, who also were the beneficiaries of five walks — four of them consecutive.
Rather than hang their collective heads or get down on the offenders, the players supported each other and maintained a positive attitude.
“The guys do a good job picking each other up,” said sophomore pitcher Jeff Gibbs. “If one guy misses a ground ball or a fly ball, another guy’s right there to make a nice play or get a big hit. It all evens out. The guys are pretty supportive of each other.”
Now, UMaine knows it is in the proverbial driver’s seat.
“It puts us in a great position, but it’s not going to be easy,” Trimper said of winning the title. “Stony Brook won 42 baseball games. We’re going to have to beat them or Albany (on Friday).”
UMaine starters getting job done
UMaine’s starting pitching has been pivotal in its 2-0 start during the America East tournament.
Junior Keith Bilodeau pitched a seven-hitter Wednesday, while Jeff Gibbs allowed only one hit in six innings on Thursday.
Those numbers are good for a 1.80 earned run average among the starters and 1.50 overall for the staff.
Thus far, postseason opponents are batting only .129 (8-for-62) against the Bears.
Gibbs enjoyed a bit of redemption with Thursday’s victory as he was the losing pitcher in the 2010 tournament opener against Stony Brook at Vestal, N.Y.
In that game, he gave up seven hits, five walks and four runs in five-plus innings.
“It was nice to see him come back, because he wanted this game real bad after going out last year,” Trimper said.
Sophomore Steve Perakslis (5-4, 3.92 ERA) is expected to get the start on Friday, but the Bears have their entire bullpen available. That group is led by junior Jon Balentina, freshman Shaun Coughlin, junior A.J. Bazdanes and freshman D.J. Voisine.
UMaine errors not typical
The four errors committed by UMaine in Thursday’s victory over Stony Brook were a rare departure from the Bears’ usual defensive dependability.
UMaine had committed more than two errors only once in its previous 31 games. It had three in an 18-9 victory at Albany on May 8.
The Bears had made four errors in a game twice this season, those coming during a three-day span during their Florida swing in early March.
Lewis sets UMaine record
UMaine junior center fielder Taylor Lewis achieved a school career record during Wednesday’s first-round game against Binghamton.
Lewis lashed a leadoff triple in the eighth inning, giving him 20 for his career with the Black Bears. That eclipses the previous mark of 19 held by former teammate Curt Smith.
Lewis’ triple was a big one, as he later scored the eventual winning run in the 4-3 victory.