KINGSTON, R.I. — Mike Fransoso sat on the back of the bench in the University of Maine dugout, his head buried in his hands.
The senior shortstop’s college career had ended Sunday — prematurely from his perspective — at the hands of Jake Lambert and the Binghamton University Bearcats, who beat the Black Bears 4-0 in the America East championship game at the University of Rhode Island.
“This is a tough pill to swallow, because this is one of the best teams I’ve ever been around, from the freshmen all the way up to the other seniors,” Fransoso said, his eyes damp and red and his voice wavering slightly.
“It’s just a great group of guys that worked extremely hard,” he continued. “It was easy to be a senior leader on the team and a captain, just because of the way they worked.”
Fransoso, the 2013 America East Player of the Year and a four-year starter, was proud to wear the No. 2 UMaine jersey.
“That’s why I haven’t taken it off yet,” he said.
Not only had his dream of returning to an NCAA regional been dashed, he would soon be forced to say goodbye to his teammates, with whom he won 37 games this season.
Together, this year’s seniors and juniors won many more. In 2011, they won an America East title and played in the Chapel Hill (N.C.) Regional.
The upperclassmen were quick to point out it has been a privilege to have the opportunity to play with this group this spring. They know it was something special.
“This team was 25 brothers,” said junior Alex Calbick. “We had one vision. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done.”
He pointed to the importance of the leadership provided by Fransoso, A.J. Bazdanes and D.J. Voisine, who has junior athletic eligibility.
“This is the closest team I’ve been on in three years,” Calbick said.
UMaine head coach Steve Trimper heaped high praise on this year’s club.
He appreciates the work ethic, commitment and resilience they showed, starting with fall ball back in September.
“I’ve never been more proud of a team I’ve ever coached,” said Trimper, who also seemed to be affected emotionally by the disappointment of watching this group fail in its quest.
“This is a tough one, because we couldn’t have done anything differently,” he said. “We couldn’t have practiced any more. We couldn’t have taught any more. We couldn’t have had more of an effort from these guys.”
The Black Bears were able to balance their commitment to excellence with the ability to enjoy the process. The combination of personalities enabled them to win often while shrugging off some tough losses or difficult stretches.
“Chemistry, I’d say, is the No. 1 thing that pushed this team so far,” said Fransoso, who hopes to get drafted next month and continue his career in the pro ranks.
“In the dugout, we’re loose all the time, having a good time going to practice,” he added.
Fransoso, who has kept in touch with many of his former teammates, knows the members of the 2013 ballclub share a bond that cannot be broken.
“It really is one big family,” he said. “You say that about every team, [but] this one’s a special team that I’ll probably never experience with another team again.”