UMaine baseball stuns Stony Brook in America East tourney

Posted May 26, 2011, at 5:49 p.m.
Last modified May 26, 2011, at 10:30 p.m.

STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Uncharacteristic errors and a succession of walks are not usually part of a winning formula during the postseason.

The University of Maine Black Bears weren’t about to let a few such difficulties deter them from their quest Thursday for a shot at the America East baseball title.

Jeff Gibbs and Shaun Coughlin combined on a one-hitter while Alex Calbick and Michael Fransoso accounted for five hits and eight RBIs as second-seeded UMaine stunned top-seeded tourney host Stony Brook 8-1 in the second round of the America East Baseball Championship at Joe Nathan Field.

Coach Steve Trimper’s Bears (31-22) advance to the championship-round game set for 3 p.m. Friday against the winner of the 11 a.m. elimination game between Stony Brook (42-11) and No. 4 Albany (20-30).

The Great Danes eliminated Binghamton 4-1 in Thursday’s first game.

UMaine needs one victory Friday, or in Saturday’s if necessary game, to earn the America East’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

“These guys had such a great attitude,” Trimper said of the Bears, who have won five straight and 16 of their last 17.

“We are hot because we’re playing as a unit, playing as a team, and that’s all that’s going on,” he added. “We’ve talked about intensity all year long, about motivation, and these guys are just not giving up.”

Solid pitching, clutch hitting and resilience were the keys Thursday as UMaine overcame a Stony Brook squad that was riding a 12-game winning streak and had won 23 of its previous 24 games.

The Bears, who never trailed, were able to maintain the upper hand while working around some serious challenges in front of a partisan crowd on the Seawolves’ home field.

UMaine proved its mettle in the bottom of the fifth inning, after a 4-6-3 double play — which included a spinning move on the relay throw by shortstop Fransoso — bailed Gibbs out of a major jam.

Gibbs (7-5) was cruising along with one out in the fifth when he walked Travis Jankowski and made an errant pickoff throw into the crowd. On the next pitch, Jankowski stole third and scored when the throw from catcher Fran Whitten sailed into foul ground.

Gibbs walked the next three batters to load the bases.

“They put a little pressure on him and kind of got in his head a little bit from the dugout, the chirping,” Trimper said.

FInally, on a 3-2 pitch, Gibbs got Chad Marshall to ground to second base, starting the inning-ending double play.

“I think I got lucky,” admitted Gibbs. “Troy Black and Mike Fransoso had a great game and without them, I don’t know where we’d be right now. I definitely owe them a lot.”

Trailing 2-1, but knowing Gibbs was struggling, Stony Brook seemed to be re-energized.

“We went through a little lapse there when they scored that run and they were getting loud over there and we kind of backed off a little bit,” Fransoso said. “After that, I came in and tried to light a little fire under the team’s ass.”

With two out in the fifth, Taylor Lewis provided the spark when he flared a two-strike pitch into left field for a single. That brought up the fiery Fransoso, who worked a 2-2 count against losing pitcher Tyler Johnson (9-3) before smashing a high, two-run home run to right field.

Fransoso said he went to the plate thinking home run, but re-evaluated after taking Ball 1.

“When I backed out, I was like, I don’t need a home run right now. Just try and get a hit,” he explained. “It worked out funny. He threw me an inside pitch — I think he left a changeup up — and I just got my hands in. I was just trying to get a base hit.”

Fransoso had trouble containing his enthusiasm after the homer and Stony Brook players took exception to his reaction. The result was a verbal exchange between players on both teams that resulted in a warning against the UMaine dugout by one of the umpires.

“It makes it easier to pitch when you’ve got a bench full of guys to support you and being vocal,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs, a sophomore righthander, allowed only a two-out double off the bat of league player of the year Willy Carmona in the first inning. He fanned four and walked five.

Gibbs worked around a leadoff error in the sixth to retire the next three batters. He was lifted after walking the leadoff man in the seventh.

Coughlin, a freshman righty, came on to set down all eight Seawolves he faced to earn his second save.

UMaine put the game out of reach in the eighth on Fransoso’s one-out double, a walk to Joey Martin and a two-out hit batsman. Lefty Josh Barry came on and Calbick blew out the candles on his 19th birthday by pulling a grand slam inside the right-field foul poll.

“I was sitting there, 1-1, thinking offspeed (pitch),” Calbick said. “Sure enough, he threw me a slider and I hit it out of the park.”

The freshman third baseman also made a nifty barehanded play to retire Maxx Tissenbaum on a bunt to open the ninth inning.

Fransoso stroked an RBI single to plate the eventual winning run in the third inning, while Calbick smashed a run-scoring double to left in the second inning.

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