ORONO, Maine — A week ago, the University of Maine baseball team was looking for answers.
The Black Bears appear to have found some during last weekend’s trip to Norfolk, Va.
A four-game sweep at Norfolk State has boosted UMaine’s collective confidence as it heads into Wednesday’s 5 p.m. home opener against Husson University of Bangor.
The Bears open their America East campaign with a four-game series at Maryland Baltimore County.
Coach Steve Trimper’s Black Bears (11-14) appear to have refined their mental approach and are seeing the benefits.
Rather than stress about the outcome, UMaine instead is formulating short-term game goals that provide motivation and focus. The ideas went on the board in the dugout before the Norfolk State games.
“We had a couple small things that we wanted to accomplish as a team: Try and steal three bases, get one two-out RBI, attack fastballs,” explained reigning America East Player of the Week Mike Fransoso. “We didn’t think too big, we just tried to do a couple small things and that led to getting four wins.”
The junior shortstop was the Bears’ catalyst out of the leadoff spot. Fransoso went 8-for-17 with seven runs scored and three doubles. He also walked five times and stole four bases.
“Putting him back in the leadoff spot, getting him going, that was a big part of it,” said Trimper, who said the team altered its hitting approach by being more aggressive.
Rather than exhibit patience and try to force opponents to throw more pitches, the Bears went on the attack.
“We didn’t let a lot of fastballs go last week and you saw us getting more hits and more extra-base hits,” Trimper said.
The Bears batted .338 as a team and averaged 13 hits and almost nine runs per game against a solid Spartans staff.
Tyler Patzalek went 7-for-15 with four RBI, Fran Whitten went 7-for-18 with three RBI, Troy Black had six hits and seven RBI in 16 at-bats and Scott Heath of Westbrook was 6-for-14.
“Things went our way and we feel like we’re rolling all of a sudden, so we’re hoping that will carry into next weekend,” Black said.
UMaine is trying to maintain an approach that centers on playing an at-bat, a play, an inning at a time.
“It can be a little intimidating when you look too far into the season,” Black said. “That’s probably the No. 1 thing that can derail you and expectations of others and yourself can start weighing down on you. You just want to focus on what’s in front of you.”
Contributions came from other players, including Colin Gay (5-for-16, 3 sacrifice bunts) and Ian Leisenheimer (5-for-14, 7 RBI).
“I feel like everybody’s swinging the bat really well and we had some timely hits that were important to put a few runs up in the early innings,” said Whitten, who is looking forward to Wednesday’s home game.
“It’ll be nice to hopefully have some support at home,” he said. “It’s good to not worry about getting from the hotel to the field and be in our own place, be in the clubhouse.”
The pitching staff also shouldered the load consistently throughout the Norfolk State series, with starters Steve Perakslis, Shaun Coughlin and D.J. Voisine leading the way. Mike Connolly earned a win and a save with eight shutout innings of relief.
The Bears allowed 30 hits in 36 innings with a 2.50 earned run average, 32 strikeouts and 16 walks.
The defense committed only two errors on the grass and dirt field, but Fransoso is looking forward to some artificial surfaces in the coming weeks. He and the Bears are looking to build more momentum.
“I think we definitely got some confidence,” he said. “That was much needed going into UMBC and hopefully we can string it together and keep this thing rolling.”