ORONO, Maine — There are two weekends of regular-season play remaining for the University of Maine baseball team, but the Black Bears are already starting to plan ahead for the postseason.
With six games to play, including this weekend’s three-game series at Binghamton, UMaine is in 1st place in the America East standings and has sewn up a spot in the conference tournament.
Coach Steve Trimper’s Black Bears are 29-18 overall and 16-7 in league play. UMaine also is closing in on clinching the America East regular-season title.
UMaine won two of three games at Albany last weekend, securing its seventh series win in eight tries.
“It was a good weekend, but we’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves,” Trimper said. “I think we’re in great position [for the tournament].”
UMaine has a 2 1/2-game lead over Albany (14-10) and a three-game advantage over Binghamton (13-10).
Winning the regular season will serve only to make UMaine the top seed going into the America East tourney. The four-team, double-elimination event will be played May 22-25 at a neutral site — LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Mass.
Trimper’s mission, in the meantime, is to have the Bears confident and their pitchers rested for the postseason.
Junior catcher Mike Connolly, who also has been the No. 3 starter in the weekend rotation, will not pitch against Binghamton.
With a playoff spot locked up going into its May 17-18 home series against Maryland Baltimore County, it is unlikely any of the regular starters will throw more than a few innings with the tournament around the corner.
“We have to win our conference to go on, but we really want to set our sights on going to an NCAA regional,” Trimper said. “I think we have a good enough team to do it.”
UMaine also has embraced an enhanced nonleague schedule down the stretch. The Bears’ May 14 game at Boston College is expected to be converted into a doubleheader consisting of two, seven-inning games.
UMaine then plays Holy Cross on May 15 at Goodall Park in Sanford, before taking a day off prior to the UMBC series.
“That way, I can get everybody innings,” Trimper said of the pitching staff. “Going into the tournament, I want to have all hands on deck.”
Tommy Lawrence, A.J. Bazdanes and Connolly have accounted for 57 percent of the Bears’ total innings pitched, getting 31 of their 47 starts. Trimper wants to establish a more experienced bullpen by utilizing pitchers such as Shaun Coughlin, D.J. Voisine, Logan Fullmer, Jake Marks, Burk FitzPatrick, Luke Morrill and Charlie Butler.
Lawrence sets AE mark
Lawrence set an America East pitching record last weekend when he recorded his eighth league victory of the season. The eight victories break the record of seven set in 1994 by Delaware’s Jeremy Benson.
The junior right-hander from West Haven, Conn., boasts a 9-2 record with a 2.40 earned run average. He has 61 strikeouts and 15 walks in 82 2/3 innings and has limited opponents to a .256 batting average.
Lawrence is 8-0 in America East with a 1.76 ERA.
Lawrence has won all eight of his conference starts with two series left. The 10-weekend schedule will be the longest in league history.
During the 2010 and 2011 seasons at Winthrop University, Lawrence pitched a total of 78 innings and was 3-8 with five saves in 43 appearances.
Bears tweak offensive approach
The Bears continue to work on refining their offensive approach as the regular season winds down.
That discipline helped produce some results in their 8-6 and 4-3 wins at Albany.
Trimper said UMaine has been forced to contend with opposing pitchers who are intent on enticing the Bears to swing at offspeed pitches.
“What we’re really working on in practice, on the Pro Batter machine, in BP [batting practice], is teams working us away,” he explained. “For us to be successful in the tournament, we’ve got to start driving the ball the other way [to the opposite field].”
Trimper said several of the UMaine batters did just that at Albany and must avoid trying to pull curveballs, sliders and changeups throw to the outer part of the plate.