LOWELL, Mass. — The last time Tommy Lawrence pitched in the postseason, things didn’t go so well.
And last weekend, he took a loss with a one-inning relief stint.
On Wednesday, the University of Maine’s junior right-hander showed why he was named the America East Pitcher of the Year.
Lawrence pitched a two-hit shutout, leading the top-seeded Black Bears to a 7-0 victory over No. 4 Stony Brook in the opening game of the America East Baseball Championship at LeLacheur Park.
“I haven’t thrown in a tournament since Winthrop [University in 2011] and I threw one inning, kind of got hit around, so it was good to shut a team down,” said Lawrence (10-3), who tied a school single-season record for wins.
Coach Steve Trimper’s Black Bears (35-20) plays No. 2 Binghamton (28-22), a 9-0 winner over No. 3 Albany, Thursday at 8 p.m. The defending champion Seawolves (22-35) take on the Great Danes (23-24-1) in Thursday’s 4 p.m. elimination game in the double-elimination tourney.
“It takes a lot of pressure off,” said UMaine junior Mike Connolly.
“It opens up a whole bouquet of opportunity. Getting that first win is big for confidence,” he added.
Lawrence struck out six and walked two, utilizing an effective curveball to keep SBU hitters off balance.
“Tommy’s been our best pitcher all year,” said UMaine junior Eric White of Brewer. “We kind of put him on a pedestal a little bit and we expect him to do that every time out.”
Lawrence was plenty motivated after he was brought in to work the ninth inning of last Saturday’s game against Maryland Baltimore County and surrendered the tying and winning runs.
“I don’t want to lose,” said Lawrence, who explained he has tried to give up McDonald’s “McDoubles” and eat better recently to enhance his performance.
“That’s what I put in the back of my head. I don’t want to lose again for the rest of the season. Anything to put fire in the belly,” Lawrence added.
White spearheaded the Black Bears’ 14-hit assault with a three-run home run and an RBI single.
Vanderka (8-4), pitching on only four days’ rest, lasted 4 1/3 innings. He was touched for 10 hits and seven runs, all earned, with one strikeout and one walk.
“He’s got a very good changeup to lefties, so that was kind of the approach with the lefties was go away [opposite field], look away, sit on that changeup that he likes,” said UMaine senior Mike Fransoso, “and if we get a fastball, use your hands to get through it.”
Scott Heath of Westbrook knocked in two runs with a pair of singles and Alex Calbick posted two singles and an RBI for the Bears. Troy Black (two runs scored), Fransoso and Mike Connolly stroked two singles apiece.
Cole Peragine’s one-out single in the first inning and Brett Tenuto’s single in the eighth were the only hits for the Seawolves.
UMaine staked Lawrence to a 4-0 lead in the first inning against Vanderka. Black lined a one-out single to center field, stole second and moved up on Fransoso’s single to center.
Calbick plated the first run with an opposite-field single to left, then White pulled an RBI single to left. Heath followed with a two-run single up the middle off the glove of diving shortstop Peragine to make it 4-0.
“It took the pressure off us and put the pressure on them,” Trimper said.
“[In the tournament], sometimes four runs feels like 400,” he added. “It feels like a mountain to overcome.”
Lawrence made the runs stand up with a dominating performance. The Bears committed three errors, but backed him by turning inning-ending double plays in the first and third innings.
“It’s easy to kind of get on a roll when you pitch over adversity when it comes your way,” Connolly said.
“It’s real easy to win a game when you give up two hits,” he added.
White provided some insurance in the fifth inning when he drilled a three-run home run to left field that provided the final margin of victory.
It was his sixth homer of the season, which ties injured Kevin Courtney for the league lead.
“You just try to see a ball up and try to drive one, try to score a few runs, because we were trying to extend the lead and trying to put a team away,” White said.
“It was a curveball or a slider. It kind of hung up there and stayed about belt-high,” he added.
Trimper admitted he was leery about facing Stony Brook in the tournament opener.
“I respect those guys immensely,” he said. “They’ve been there before and they’ve got some great players and I thought it was going to be a very big hurdle for us.”