ORONO, Maine — There wasn’t much question Stony Brook University was going to be the favorite to repeat as the America East Conference baseball champion in 2013.
The Seawolves not only won the league title last season, they made an unprecedented and eye-popping drive all the way to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
That’s just fine as far as University of Maine coach Steve Trimper is concerned.
“Let them wear the target for this year. I think we had it last year,” said Trimper, whose Black Bears were the America East champs in 2011.
Regardless, the poll really only means baseball season isn’t far away.
“It’s basically a crap shoot,” Trimper said. “It’s great to get all the juices flowing, but it’s just coaches voicing our opinions about what’s going to happen.”
Stony Brook received four first-place votes and 23 points in the voting of the league’s head coaches, while UMaine garnered one first-place vote and 19 points.
The Bears were followed by Binghamton (1 first-place vote) with 18 points, Albany (13), Hartford (12) and Maryland Baltimore County (5).
UMaine posted a 28-28 record last season, including an 11-11 America East mark. The Bears lost to Stony Brook in the championship round.
The Bears return 19 letterwinners and six positional starters, led by senior co-captain Mike Fransoso and junior pitcher Shaun Coughlin, both of whom were first-team all-conference selections in 2012.
Other top veterans include junior second baseman Troy Black, junior third baseman Alex Calbick, junior outfielder Colin Gay, sophomore utility player Scott Heath of Westbrook, senior pitcher/designated hitter Fran Whitten and junior catcher Mike Connolly.
UMaine opens its season Feb. 15 with a four-game series at Auburn. Trimper said Stony Brook’s 2012 run served as inspiration for his team.
“I think it gave our guys a little bit of motivation and drive,” Trimper said. “We’ve got a lot of depth and a really unbelievable attitude; the best I’ve ever seen.”
The Black Bears were outside briefly on Tuesday for some practice on Mahaney Diamond. It marked the fourth time they have been able to do some work outdoors in preparation for the Auburn series.
UMaine loses Patzalek
UMaine will play this season without one of its most seasoned players.
Senior Tyler Patzalek, who has been a consistent presence both behind the plate and in the lineup the last three years, is academically ineligible and is not attending classes this semester.
Patzalek was a career .294 hitter for the Bears and had 27 doubles, six home runs and 94 runs batted in in 156 career games. Last season, he started 48 games, batting .286 with three homers and 35 RBIs.
Patzalek had a .988 fielding percentage and threw out 22 of 48 would-be base-stealers.
Trimper said Connolly, who was forced into pitching duty after injuries to two upperclassmen last season, will see the majority of the time at catcher. He’ll likely be backed up by freshman Jonathan Salcedo.
It also could mean more at-bats for designated-hitter candidates Whitten, sophomore Luke Morrill of South Thomaston and Heath, or freshmen Brenden Geary and Luke Mogle.
Season Kick-off party set
UMaine baseball will usher in the start of the new season Saturday with its Season Kick-off party.
The event, which is open to the public, will give fans an opportunity to meet and speak with Trimper, the Black Bear coaching staff and team members. It will run from 6 to 8 p.m. at the home of Joe Ferris and Carol Depew at 83 Wintergreen Way in Brewer.
Food and drinks will be provided by Seasons Grille and Sports Lounge. The cost is $50 per person, with proceeds benefiting the baseball program.
Contact Trimper at 581-1090 or email@example.com to confirm your attendance.