ORONO, Maine — Much of this season, the University of Maine baseball team had been wondering what happened to Jeff Gibbs.
The Black Bears’ highly regarded righthander counts himself among those who had such thoughts.
Gibbs had been suffering through an up-and-down season during which he struggled with his consistency not only from game to game, or inning to inning, but batter to batter.
Gibbs helped restore his self-confidence Sunday at Mahaney Diamond, where he pitched six shutout innings in UMaine’s 10-0 America East victory over Albany. He struck out seven and walked three, mixing his pitches and working around trouble.
“I think sometimes I get out there and I just try to throw it as hard as I can and I get out of my comfort zone,” said Gibbs, who at times has let his emotions get the best of him.
Gibbs takes a 3-4 record and an 8.04 earned run average into next weekend’s three-game series against the same Great Danes, this time at Albany.
Gibbs credited Black Bears pitching coach Jason Spaulding with helping him continue to work through what has been a difficult 2012 season.
“I owe a lot to him,” Gibbs said. “He’s been really patient with me this past little while. We did a lot of balance work [last] week and just slowing myself down as opposed to everything going a hundred miles an hour, because that never works out.”
Gibbs has considerable physical tools on the mound. The 6-foot-4, 190-pounder from Toronto features a fastball that now touches 94 mph, but he continues to work on getting his slider over for strikes.
UMaine head coach Steve Trimper readily admitted the Bears need Gibbs to be pitching well down the stretch if they want to make a run at defending their league title.
“There was the Jeff that we need,” Trimper said. “Last year at this time was when he got going. We’re going to need that from him, because Jeff is the one guy on our team that can shut down any team in the conference.”
A dialed-in Gibbs, along with junior Steve Perakslis and sophomore Shaun Coughlin, gives UMaine three strong starters. If they pitch well, a bullpen led by sophomores Mike Connolly, D.J. Voisine and Fran Whitten, along with senior lefthander Jon Balentina, provides plenty of support.
Gibbs’ efforts are magnified because of his big-game experience and his ability.
“Sometimes, with guys like that, you’ve just got to relax and know that he can do what he does,” said sophomore Troy Black. “We always have faith in Gibbs that he’s trying his best to help us out, so we’re happy for him that he finally broke through.”
The key at this point is for Gibbs to settle into a good groove where he regains his control and his swagger.
“Everyone goes through their struggles in the season, it’s just right now it would be great for him if he could build off that [Saturday performance] because he pitched great,” said senior Ian Leisenheimer.
Bears try to refocus again
The UMaine baseball team had to do some regrouping after dropping Saturday’s doubleheader to Albany.
The losses not only extended the Bears’ losing streak to five games, they put a crimp in their hope to earn the right to host the America East Championship at the end of May.
UMaine (22-19, 8-4 AE) has slipped to third place in the standings behind first-place Stony Brook (34-10, 12-2 AE) and Binghamton (18-18, 9-3 AE). The Bears, now a full three games behind the Seawolves, might have been putting too much pressure on themselves.
“We didn’t do a good job of forgetting the past and not looking at the future,” Trimper said. “As soon as we dropped a game, it was like, oh my God, now we’ve got to do everything to win this [next] game, because we need to host.”
He said while setting such goals can be motivational, the Bears need to forget about expectations and concentrate on playing well from inning to inning and game to game and let the rest take care of itself.
“We’re a good enough ballclub. We have talent. We just can’t worry about where our season takes us,” Trimper said. “We have to play for the day and then, at the end, win three games [in the tournament].”
UMaine players are focusing this week on their final exams and will try to work in practices around tests and the rainy weather.