STONY BROOK, N.Y. – Joey Martin has worked five years for the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament. At long last, the senior from Portland will get his chance – along with the rest of his Black Bear teammates.
Sophomore righthander Steve Perakslis scattered three hits over 7 1/3 innings Friday and UMaine racked up 12 hits on its way to a convincing 10-1 victory over Albany in the title game of the America East Baseball Championship.
Coach Steve Trimper’s second-seeded Black Bears (32-22), which went 3-0 in the tournament and beat each of the other teams, won for the sixth straight game. UMaine won its first league title since 2006 and earned America East’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Martin, the Bears’ quiet senior co-captain, relished the Bears’ accomplishment.
“The year before I got here, they went to the regionals and made some noise, so when I first came in as freshman, everyone was talking about it and how awesome an experience it was and how fun it was, so I always wanted to get the taste of it,” Martin said.
“That’s why I came back this year,” added Martin, who singled three times and had two RBIs Friday. “It’s a great feeling.”
The Bears must wait until Monday at 12:30 p.m. for the NCAA selection show on ESPN-TV to find out which of the 16 regionals they will attend. The tourneys run June 3-6.
UMaine is holding a selection show party Monday at noon at the Seadog Brewing Company in downtown Bangor, where the team and fans will gather to learn the Bears’ tourney placement.
Fourth-seeded Albany (21-31) had advanced to the title game for the second straight year with a 4-1 victory over top-seeded tourney host and defending league champion Stony Brook.
UMaine has won 17 of its last 18 contests.
Junior Taylor Lewis went 3-for-5 Friday with a double and two RBIs on his way to earning the championship’s Most Outstanding Player Award.
“We know we didn’t want to change anything, we just wanted to go in loose,” said Lewis, who was 5-for-12 overall with two RBIs, four runs scored, a triple and a double.
“This is what we strive for every fall, to make it to the tournament, win the tournament and go to a regional and play some good teams, wherever it may be,” Lewis added. “I’m proud of everybody on our team.”
The Bears also placed sophomore shortstop Michael Fransoso, freshman third baseman Alex Calbick and junior pitcher Keith Bilodeau on the all-tourney team. It also included Zach Kraham, Kasceim Graham and Ralph Rizzo of Albany, Nick Tropeano and Steve Marino of Stony Brook and James Giulietti of Binghamton.
UMaine left few doubts about its ability to finish what it had started with wins Wednesday and Thursday.
“We’re going to the regionals, ready to win one,” said a jubilant Trimper, moments before being doused with the contents of the water cooler.
“Everybody contributed, it’s not just one guy,” he said. “The guys just continued to play hard and it’s unbelievable, the finish we had. We’re just trying to live up to the tradition of Maine baseball.”
Peraskslis’ start, which included eight strikeouts, a walk and a hit batsman, continued the Bears’ pitching dominance. He got into a tremendous groove after some first-inning wildness.
Perakslis featured good pop on his fastball and effectively mixed in a hard slider, a sharp curve and an occasional changeup.
“The first inning, I was all jacked up and I was missing high,” said the sophomore righty. “Then I settled down and figured it out.”
The Bears broke the game open with four runs in the fourth inning of Matt Dybus, who was making his first start of the season.
Martin got things rolling with a pretty bunt single down the third-base line, moved up on a wild pitch and took third on Tyler Patzalek’s sacrifice bunt.
Justin Leisenheimer made it 2-1 with a sacrifice fly to right, before Dybus walked three consecutive batters to load the bases. Troy Black was hit by a pitch to force in a run, then Lewis laced a two-run single to center field, chasing Dybus.
Greg Lutton came on to record the final out, but the Bears knew the game was theirs for the taking.
“We weren’t letting anything get in the way, whether it was Stony Brook or Albany,” said Leisenheimer, who cranked a three-run home run to highlight a four-run seventh that broke the game open.
“It was a great team win,” he added. I couldn’t be happier right now.”
Twin brother Ian added a solo shot one batter later.
“It was good to get a home run in the same inning with Ian. That was fun,” Justin said.
Freshman Shaun Coughlin pitched the final 1 2/3 innings to secure the victory.
Patzalek also singled twice for UMaine.
Ralph Rizzo lined a solo homer in the second inning to give Albany its only run.
The Bears jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Lewis sparked the rally with a leadoff hustle double on a sharp grounder through the middle.
He moved up on Fransoso’s sacrifice bunt and scored when Martin reached on a throwing error.
Albany had a chance in the first on a leadoff walk and a one-out hit batsman, but Perakslis pitched his way out of trouble. He went on to retire 17 of the last 19 men he faced.
“He did a great job just throwing strikes and after that (first inning) he was just unhittable,” Trimper said.
The Great Danes tied it on Rizzo’s homer after Perakslis struck out the first two batters in the bottom of the second. It sent the Albany dugout into a raucous celebration, one that was short-lived.
Now, the Bears can look ahead.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Martin said.