The University of Maine baseball team has encountered its usual challenges during the early part of the season.
Trying to establish a solid rotation among their starting pitchers and relievers has been the point of emphasis for coach Steve Trimper and his staff as the Black Bears prepare to wind up their two-week trip to Florida with two games Saturday and one Sunday in Winter Haven.
UMaine (6-12) has won three of its last four games coming off an 8-4 victory Friday against Northwestern. The Bears, who have five losses against top-25 teams Miami and Clemson, have absorbed five defeats by three runs or fewer.
The pitching is the primary concern.
Through Thursday, s enior right-hander Tommy Lawrence (0-4) had a 6.12 earned run average. Junior lefty Scott Heath of Westbrook (2-1, 5.95) is bidding for a top-three starting position along with freshman righty Jeff Gelinas of Saco (1-2, 4.50).
“Tommy is going to come around. Scott’s pitching well, he’s kept us in games, and Jeff has been a pleasant surprise,” Trimper said.
Junior transfer Jacob Gosselin-Deschesnes (0-1, 1.62) and sophomore Charlie Butler (1-0, 1.23) have emerged as the bullpen leaders to date.
“They’re throwing a lot of one-, two-inning clips and they’re pitching with a lot of confidence,” said Trimper, who expects some of the other veterans to start performing.
UMaine owns a 5.92 team ERA and opponents are batting .313 against the staff. The Bears have allowed 184 hits in 146 innings with 92 strikeouts, 67 walks and 17 hit batsmen.
Sophomores Jake Marks (0-2, 10.97), Burk FitzPatrick (0-0, 8.78) and Logan Fullmer (1-1, 8.31) have all struggled, while senior righty Shaun Coughlin (0-1, 5.14) is trying to find his groove. Luke Morrill of South Thomaston also could be in the mix.
“We just need one or two of those guys to step up and pitch a little bit better, they way they’re capable of doing,” Trimper said. “They have not pitched to the level we need them to, to win games.”
The Black Bears have been trying to establish a new mix of infielders with two first-time starters in the lineup.
The mainstay has been senior Troy Black, who has moved from second base over to shortstop. Senior Alex Calbick (.241, 1 home run, 8 runs batted in) was shaky at third base early, thus has also auditioned at second and seen time at first.
Sophomore Shane Bussey (.217) is playing third or second, while freshman Skyler Mercado (.083) is trying to make the transition at second base.
Trimper said the makeup of the lineup will depend upon whether they’re looking more for offense or defense.
UMaine has committed 32 errors but has turned 15 double plays in 17 games. Trimper suggested a return to artificial turf rather than hard, heavily-used Florida diamonds, will yield more consistent defense.
On offense, the Bears have been spearheaded by two seniors at the top of the order.
Leadoff man Colin Gay is batting .358 with a team-leading 11 runs scored and seven RBIs, while No. 2 man Black is hitting a team-best .386 among regulars with seven RBIs and five stolen bases.
UMaine, which leads America East teams with a .278 team batting average, also features junior outfielders Brian Doran (.292, 6 RBI) and Sam Balzano of Portland (.260, 2 RBI), along with Heath (.379) and junior transfer outfielder Steven Adam (.275, 4 RBI).
“We’ve actually swung the bat pretty well, but the one downfall we have had is we haven’t been able to get a lot of big hits,” Trimper said.
Bussey, Mercado and catchers Jonathan Salcedo (.176, 1 HR, 3 RBI) and Pat Coughlin (.150, 2 RBI) have been slow out of the gate. Trimper also expects further contributions from senior designated hitter Kyle Silva (.259, 2 HR, team-best 14 RBI) and sophomore 1B Brenden Geary (.216, 5 RBI).