June 22, 2018
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UMaine seeks consistency after challenging southern swing

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Colin Gay of the University of Maine lays down a successful squeeze bunt during a game last season against Maryland Baltimore County at Mahaney Diamond in Orono. Gay was the offensive catalyst during Maine’s recent spring trip and leads the team in batting average (.370), hits (20), walks (8), on-base percentage (.452) and stolen bases (3).
By Pete Warner, BDN Staff

Inconsistency was the key word for the University of Maine baseball team during its annual spring break trip.

The Black Bears (5-8) picked up a season-opening victory over then-No. 16 Clemson in a competitive series in South Carolina, won twice at Florida A&M, then struggled mightily against Florida State, now the No. 6 team in the country.

UMaine won two of its last five, but let a couple of games slip away.

“We played like a [NCAA] regional team at times and we played like a Little League team a times,” UMaine coach Steve Trimper said Tuesday. “We just need to get a little more consistent and that will come.”

Versatile sophomore Mike Connolly said the Bears got worn down a bit on the trip.

“It was a long two weeks and I think a lot of the guys started to get fatigued, both mentally and physically,” said Connolly, who is being used this season as a catcher, pitcher and backup infielder.

“We’re definitely going to bounce back and hopefully, these next few weekends, pull out more wins,” he said.

The Bears expected some challenges with a tough schedule and newcomers seeing considerable action. Eight first-year players made their collegiate debuts down south.

“We got some freshmen some playing time and some guys did well, but we have to start now trying to get a consistent lineup together,” Trimper said.

The Bears batted .271 as a team, averaging 5.2 runs per game, but often failed to come up with clutch hits in key situations.

UMaine posted a 6.92 team earned run average, issued 20 wild pitches and hit 20 batters. Opponents batted .314 against the Bears.

With senior A.J. Bazdanes out for the season after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery and senior Jon Balentina sidelined by a sore left forearm after pitching 4⅓ innings down south, UMaine’s experience was diminished.

Junior Steve Perakslis (0-2, 3.86 ERA) and sophomore Shaun Coughlin (1-1, 4.19) paced the veterans, with junior Jeff Gibbs (0-3, 12.83) struggling in two of his three starts against high-level opponents.

Connolly (0-2, 9.22), who didn’t pitch last year, made five appearances. He limited Stetson to three hits and three runs in 7⅓ innings in his only start. Teams batted .275 against him.

UMaine assistant coach Jason Spaulding said the Bears’ commitment to limiting walks had a down side.

“I think we put a little too much emphasis on the walks and we started leaving pitches over the middle of the plate that were getting hit around a little bit,” Spaulding said.

The Bears issued only 48 bases on balls in 108 innings. Last season, UMaine walked 37 in its season-opening, four-game series at Nevada-Las Vegas.

Spaulding said UMaine pitchers also had trouble commanding their breaking pitches.

“If you can’t throw a secondary pitch for strikes, you’re going to get hit,” he said. “We need to make more quality pitches.”

Freshman Steve Trask of Biddeford (0-0 2.84) pitched in five games, while righty Luke Morrill of South Thomaston (1-0, 4.66) held opponents to a .250 average in 9⅔ innings.

“We’ve just got to figure out who’s our middle-inning guy, who’s our late-inning guy, who’s our closer,” Spaulding said. “It’s all up for grabs.”

UMaine had difficulties in the field, committing 27 errors (2.1 per game). Junior shortstop Mike Fransoso (.340 average, 9 runs scored, 5 doubles), made 10 errors.

“Our defense was horrible at times and outstanding at times,” Trimper said.

The offensive catalyst was sophomore center fielder Colin Gay, who leads UMaine in batting average (.370), hits (20), walks (8), on-base percentage (.452) and stolen bases (3).

Sophomores Whitten (.273, 3 RBI), Troy Black (.273, 3 RBI) and Alex Calbick (.239, team-high 10 RBI) had some good games. Classmate Eric White of Brewer hit .313 with three RBI in seven games.

The positional newcomers were sparked by outfielders Sam Balzano of Portland (.412, .524 OBP) and Brian Doran (.296, 4 RBI), while redshirt freshman Nick Bernardo (.400, 1 RBI), and frosh Kyle Silva (.333, 1 RBI) chipped in.

“I was a little disappointed in our offense,” Trimper said. “Some of our guys that need to hit struggled at times.”

Among them were fifth-year seniors Ian Leisenheimer (.200, 3 RBI) and Justin Leisenheimer (114, 6 RBI) along with junior Tyler Patzalek (.227, 3 RBI) and Connolly (.182).

“We weren’t getting that big big hit that we’re used to getting from the majority of the people in the middle of our lineup,” Trimper said.

UMaine opens the Strike Out Cancer tourney at South Orange, N.J., on Friday against New Jersey Tech, which is coached by former Bears assistant Mike Cole.

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