ORONO, Maine — They’ve yet to play a home game, but the University of Maine Black Bears have grabbed the early lead in the America East baseball standings.
Coach Steve Trimper’s team won two of three games at Hartford last weekend, which gives UMaine (13-13) a 4-2 league record that places it one game ahead of four other teams.
One week after Mahaney Diamond was blanketed with snow, forcing UMaine to move its series to West Hartford, the Bears finally will make their home debut this weekend.
UMaine’s conference series originally scheduled at Albany has been moved to Orono because of field conditions. The teams will play a doubleheader Saturday beginning at 1 p.m. and a single game on Easter Sunday, also at 1 p.m.
“We’re the road warriors. We don’t play home much,” Bears junior center fielder Colin Gay said prior to Tuesday’s practice. “This actually seems pretty early to me. “I think it will be great for us.”
The UMaine-Albany series slated for May 4-5 will now be played at Albany.
It marks the third consecutive week under the new rules of America East play that a series venue has been changed because of field conditions.
“We changed the conference schedule around and I give the coaches in the league and the people in the America East office a ton of credit,” Trimper said. “No one’s lost a game yet [because of weather or field conditions].”
At Hartford, the Bears received outstanding pitching in the first and third games from junior starters Tommy Lawrence and Mike Connolly, respectively.
Lawrence no-hit Hartford for 6 1/3 innings Saturday and allowed only one run through eight with eight strikeouts en route to his second straight America East Pitcher of the Week honor — his third of the young season.
Connolly, after catching the first two games, worked five shutout innings of three-hit ball to set the tone in Sunday’s finale.
In Sunday’s first game, one bad inning put UMaine in an early 6-0 hole.
Up 1-0, the Hawks benefited from two hit batsmen, a wild pitch and an error en route to five runs in the second inning.
“It was one of the very few times this year we beat ourselves,” Trimper said.
Senior A.J. Bazdanes came on in relief of freshman Jake Marks and kept the Hawks off the board for the next 6 2/3 innings. UMaine later erased the deficit, but never led and Hartford won it in the ninth.
The Bears continue to excel on the mound. The staff owns a 4.23 earned run average and has limited opponents to a .263 batting average.
UMaine pitchers have allowed 219 hits in 219 innings with 152 strikeouts and 93 walks.
Trimper said he and pitching coach Jason Spaulding have given the pitchers and catchers the lattitude to call most of their own pitches.
“It’s the first time in 20 years I’ve done it this way. Either the players know more than I do or we coached them well,” Trimper said with a laugh.
He said that much of the credit goes to Connolly and some of the upperclassmen on the pitching staff, who understand how UMaine is trying to attack opposing batters.
“They’ve got a ton of confidence,” Trimper said.
Patience at the plate was a key element of the Bears’ two victories at Hartford. They worked 16 bases on balls in the three games.
UMaine took the philosophy to the extreme in Sunday’s second game against hard-throwing, but often erratic, Hartford lefthander Sean Newcomb.
“I’ve never done this before in my coaching career, but we didn’t swing the bat until we had two strikes,” Trimper said of the successful approach.
Junior Colin Gay worked five walks, posting four hits and scoring eight times in the series. Sophomore Brian Doran had five hits and five RBIs, while sophomore Alex Calbick logged four hits with three RBIs and five walks.