ORONO, Maine — Three weeks into the America East schedule, the University of Maine baseball team finds itself atop the conference standings.
Coach Steve Trimper’s Black Bears (15-14, 6-3 AE) have won two of three games in each of their first three league series, which gives them a one-game lead over its next opponent, Binghamton (14-9, 5-4 AE). The Bearcats invade Mahaney Diamond on Saturday and Sunday.
It has been a good start, but coaches and players can’t help but believe UMaine is capable of even better.
The Bears swept Albany on Saturday in a home-opening doubleheader, but struggled in all facets of the game in Sunday’s 7-6 loss.
“It’s definitely disappointing and if it isn’t disappointing for some guys, then we’ve got a problem,” senior shortstop Mike Fransoso said Sunday.
UMaine made a couple of costly mistakes in the field, failed to hit in key situations and was unable to hold a three-run lead in the final three innings of the finale.
“We’re trying to become that dominant team this year,” Trimper said. “We have to learn how to win those games. We have to learn how to nail that down and play clean [error-free] baseball.”
The Black Bears have been solid, yet unspectacular, to date.
UMaine is batting .282 overall, but ranks third in America East at .271 while averaging a league-leading 5.4 runs per game (tied with Binghamton). The Bears went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position in Sunday’s finale against the Great Danes.
“The only big hit we got in the game was the ball up the middle that Fransoso hit,” Trimper said. “We had a couple of other opportunities to bust the whole game open. We didn’t execute.”
The Bears also are still trying to establish a more predictable pitching lineup, including the starting rotation and roles for the relievers.
Junior Tommy Lawrence (4-2, 2.15 earned run average) and senior A.J Bazdanes (3-3, 3.80) have been dependable, as has junior Mike Connolly (3-2, 2.10). However, the coaching staff didn’t pitch Connolly against Albany to save wear and tear on his arm.
The Bears are trying to help junior Shaun Coughlin (1-1, 3.86) round into shape coming off arm surgery last year. If he can regain his old form and fill the No. 3 starting spot, Connolly could be relegated to spot starts or an occasional relief appearance.
However, that leaves the bullpen thin on experience. Junior D.J. Voisine (2-0, 5.79) can fill a role, if healthy, but he sat out last weekend to get some rest.
UMaine is still trying to get some experience for a promising freshman crew that includes Jake Marks (1-0, 3.24), Logan Fullmer (1-3, 5.40), Charlie Butler (0-0, 1.15) and Burk FitzPatrick (0-0 4.00).
The Black Bears are, by no means, disheartened after winning six of nine games in league play. They realize they must play better in order to make a serious run at their second America East championship in three seasons.
The Bears are encouraged by the fact they have such a wealth of experience in their regular lineup, along with considerable potential on the pitching staff. They have seven more weeks to get better heading into the America East tournament at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Mass.
“We’re looking to get everything clicking all at one time, but it doesn’t happen every day,” said junior Eric White of Brewer. “We’ve got to fight through those [tough] days and try to pull one out.”
White ended a long, tough start to his 2013 season over the weekend. The Bears’ third baseman went 6-for-11 with five runs scored and one RBI and earned the America East Player of the Week award.
With the performance, he boosted his batting average to .225 (18-for-80).
“It’s just getting that first one [hit] and trying to get the second one after that. That’s been my problem so far this year,” White said. “It’s good to get a couple bloopers in there. It makes you feel a little better and maybe the hard-hit balls will start falling in.”
UMaine’s hottest hitter in conference play has been Alex Calbick. The junior first baseman ranks second in the league with a .476 average (10-for-21) that includes three doubles, six RBI and six walks.
He reached base on eight of 11 plate appearances against Albany with three hits, three walks and two hit-by-pitches.
Sophomore right fielder Brian Doran is batting .393 in AE play (11-for-28) with seven RBIs.
UMaine does not have a midweek game prior to the three-game set against Binghamton at Mahaney Diamond on Saturday and Sunday.