Taylor Lewis came into the 2011 season with high expectations.
That included helping the University of Maine win the America East Conference title and earn a berth in the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship.
Today, coach Steve Trimper’s Black Bears (32-22) are preparing for Friday’s 6 p.m. game against host and No. 3 national seed North Carolina (45-14) in the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional.
Lewis provided a spark as he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the America East Baseball Championship last Friday.
The 6-foot, 200-pound junior also set some lofty personal goals for 2011. The speedy outfielder from Montville, Conn., had reason to be optimistic after a stellar 2010 season.
Last year, Lewis led the Black Bears with a .369 batting average, 52 runs batted in, 53 runs scored and 21 stolen bases on his way to earning a spot on the All-America East first team.
The offense hasn’t come as easily this season. Lewis heads into the regional batting .288 with three homers and 27 RBIs. He leads UMaine with 44 runs scored and 20 stolen bases.
While those numbers reflect a solid season, he had hoped for more.
“Obviously, with the year he had last year, it’s going to be hard to be better than that,” said UMaine sophomore Michael Fransoso. “People, I think, were kind of expecting him to be better than that because he is capable of doing it.”
Lewis said it has been tough to watch his production sag, even though he hit safely in 41 of 54 games and opened the season with an 18-game hitting streak.
“I never wanted to show my emotions,” Lewis said. “I tried to hide it as best as possible and do the best I could all year long with everything. It’s more about the team than anything.”
Lewis wound up hitting only .207 in league play with a homer, 11 RBIs and nine steals in 24 contests. He has continued to work hard on refining his approach at the plate by taking extra swings in the cage and seeking help from his coaches.
He chalked some of it up to tough baseball luck, as many times he would hit the ball hard, only to have it caught by fielders. Lewis tried to keep his focus on the big picture.
“We won it all, so that’s all I care about, and I’m glad everyone on the team is doing so well,” Lewis said.
Lewis long ago caught the eye of major league scouts. He reportedly is being pursued by the Pittsburgh Pirates and could be drafted as high as the top 10 rounds.
Lewis has been playing this season with the added pressure of knowing his performance affects his future.
“It does add a little extra pressure to it, but nothing too crazy,” Lewis said of the draft, which begins June 8.
Trimper said Lewis has kept everything in perspective.
“The one thing that both him and (pitcher) Keith (Bilodeau) are doing is they’re trying to put it out of their minds and just play the rest of the season,” Trimper said.
Lewis’ speed makes him a threat on the basepaths and in the field.
He owns the UMaine career record for triples with 20 and, as a base stealer, he has been successful 89 percent of the time (41-for-46) the last two seasons.
A recent of example of Lewis’ speed and aggressive approach came in the championship game at the America East tournament. In Friday’s game, he led off with a ground-ball single through the middle — which he turned into a double by hustling all the way to second base.
“He puts so much pressure on the defense,” Trimper said. “The defense changes the way they play, the way they attack the baseball. He forces errors.”
Lewis has taken away runs from opponents with his glove.
“For him to go out there every game and play great defense, cut off balls and track balls down, a lot of outfielders in the conference aren’t making those plays,” said junior Justin Leisenheimer.
The Bears realize Lewis’ presence at the top of the batting order and in center field has been instrumental in their success.
“He’s brought a lot of other things to the table that have helped us win this year that people don’t actually see in the stats,” Fransoso said.
Lewis’ focused is on winning Friday’s game.
“You want to do well, but you also want to concentrate on the team aspect and not let it affect your game,” he said. “They’re counting on you and it takes every single one of us to make it go.”