ORONO, Maine — Classes are over. Most of the students have gone home.
Now it’s all baseball, all the time, for the members of the University of Maine baseball team.
“It’s great just to focus on baseball,” said Colin Gay, one of three Black Bear seniors who along with Nick Bernardo and Steve Trask of Saco marched during Saturday morning’s commencement ceremony inside Alfond Arena.
“It’s a fun time of year and I’m glad we got to make the tournament [on Sunday]. I’m looking forward to it,” he added.
Coach Steve Trimper’s team (21-26, 8-10 America East) clinched a spot in the upcoming conference championship by virtue of taking two of three games from Albany over the weekend at Mahaney Diamond.
“They earned one of their goals for the year, which was to get into the tournament,” Trimper said.
“Everything up until now means nothing. It hasn’t been easy and we’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re in our tournament,” he added. “We’re going to try to win it and go to a regional.”
The four participants in the double-elimination tournament, scheduled May 22-24 at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Massachusetts, have been decided. Stony Brook (31-15, 16-4 AE) and upstart Hartford (29-18, 15-5 AE) will battle for the regular-season title during their series on Friday and Saturday.
Binghamton (20-22, 10-10 AE) and UMaine are dueling for the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds.
At Lowell, the No. 1 seed faces the No. 4 seed in the 2 p.m. tourney opener on May 22, followed by a game between the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds at 6 p.m.
“This is the first tournament I’ve ever been in [that] it doesn’t really matter,” Trimper said of the seeds. “Everybody’s got a good No. 1 [pitcher] and everybody’s going to go after each other in that first game.”
With a playoff spot already secured, the Black Bears can take a different approach into their last four regular-season games. That includes Tuesday’s 5:30 p.m. nonconference contest against Boston College at Goodall Park in Sanford.
UMaine then will play host to the University of Maryland Baltimore County for a doubleheader Friday and a single game Saturday, weather permitting.
UMaine will still try to win, but the aim will be to rest pitchers who need some time off and get needed work for others. Meanwhile, the hitters are hoping to get into a groove.
“We’ll rest some guys [against UMBC] because we’re going to have to have everybody fresh on the Thursday of the tournament,” Trimper said.
Juggling the lineup
The Black Bears appear to have found an effective 1-2 combination at the top of their batting order, if the Albany series is any indication.
Sam Balzano of Portland and Gay posted five hits each and combined to score five runs in the three games.
Balzano, a junior outfielder, also walked twice and scored four runs, drove in two and provided a sacrifice bunt out of the leadoff spot.
“I’ve been in a little bit of a slump earlier on in the year, but I’m starting to get a little bit of rhythm,” Balzano said. “I think coach realizes that and he has a lot of confidence in me up at the top of the order.”
Balzano is batting .299 on the season and ranks fourth on the team with 22 runs scored. His 10 stolen bases are second on the squad.
Gay, a senior outfielder, was solid in the No. 2 position. He also contributed two walks, a run scored and two RBIs.
“With Sam up there, we have speed at the top of the lineup and having guys [behind us] drive us in seems to work well,” Gay said.
Gay is second on the team with a .315 batting average and is tied for first with 25 runs scored. His nine stolen bases rank third.