It was an up-and-down 2014 season for the University of Maine baseball team.
Ultimately, the Black Bears could not muster enough consistent offense, nor sufficient quality and depth on its pitching staff, to make themselves a legitimate contender in the America East Conference.
Coach Steve Trimper’s team wrapped up its worst season since 2008 on Friday, finishing with a 24-29 record after being eliminated by Binghamton in the America East tournament at Lowell, Massachusetts.
UMaine was unable to reprise its 2013 run to the league regular-season title and a postseason runner-up finish. It could not overcome the loss of three positional starters and two of its top three starting pitchers off that ballclub.
The Black Bears, who went 10-11 in league play, finished fifth among seven America East teams and qualified for the tournament because fourth-place league newcomer UMass Lowell (10-10), in its first year after competing in Division II, is not eligible for postseason play until 2018.
UMaine went into the tournament ranked No. 234 among 302 Division I teams in the Rating Percentage Index and had only five wins against teams ranked in the top 150.
UMaine spent considerable time trying to reconfigure its infield after losing Mike Fransoso (graduation) and Eric White (attrition). Senior second baseman Troy Black (.326, 2 home runs, 27 runs batted in, team-high 15 stolen bases) moved to shortstop with sophomore Shane Bussey (.250, 13 RBI) at second and senior Alex Calbick (.284, 4 HR, 25 RBI) at third.
Then, Calbick was moved to second and Bussey played third with Black at shortstop. However, a violation of team rules — coming on the heels of a December arrest for an alleged burglary of a campus tool shed — led to Bussey’s suspension from the squad.
Junior all-league first baseman and designated hitter Scott Heath of Westbrook (.362, 4 HR, 29 RBI) emerged as UMaine’s top hitter and played strong defense and sophomore Jonathan Salcedo (.214, 2 HR, 15 RBI) was a solid defensive presence behind the plate.
The Bears featured a well-rounded, speedy outfield of senior second-team choice Colin Gay (.328, 24 RBI, 10 SB), junior Brian Doran (.314, 20 RBI) and Sam Balzano of Portland (.288, 14 RBI, 12 SB).
Senior first baseman/designated hitter Nick Bernardo (.253, 1 HR, 2 RBI), junior transfer outfielder/DH Steven Adam (.256, 10 RBI) and junior third baseman Luke Morrill of South Thomaston (.250, 1 HR, 12 RBI) also made contributions.
Even so, this team was not able to generate enough offense to win more games. UMaine batted .282 overall and averaged 4.7 runs per game. In conference play, those numbers slipped to .259 and 4.0, respectively.
The Bears also stole only 56 bases in 84 attempts while opponents were successful on 62 of 76 tries (82 percent).
One-third of the Bears’ pitching victories came from senior All-AE first-team right-hander Tommy Lawrence (8-5, 3.18 earned run average, 97 strikeouts). Behind him, senior Shaun Coughlin (4-5, 3.84, 1 save), all-rookie choice Jeff Gelinas of Saco (3-4, 3.86, 1 save) and junior lefty Heath (3-3, 4.86, 1 save) had some good outings.
The bullpen was led by sophomore Charlie Butler (1-5, 2.54) and junior transfer Jacob Gosselin-Deschesnes (1-2, 2.81, 2 saves). Both were slowed by arm injuries during the season, further hampering a staff that posted a 4.15 ERA.
Looking ahead to 2015, UMaine fans should expect to see sweeping changes.
The Bears will return Heath at first base, but must replace their shortstop and second baseman. Salcedo and Morrill also should expect stiff competition from newcomers to hold onto their starting positions. Doran and Balzano will anchor the outfield, with speedy sophomore Luc DellaFera (.286) a candidate to play center.
Heath and Gelinas are veteran starters while Gosselin-Deschesnes is among few proven commodities coming out of the bullpen.
UMaine also had to negotiate some off-field distractions this spring, including the Dec. 10 arrest of Bussey and Morrill for allegedly stealing tools. Both were suspended for the first six games of the season.
During the last week of the regular season, Bussey was suspended indefinitely and associate head coach Jason Spaulding left the team after UMaine announced his contract would not be renewed.
Trimper is optimistic about a resurgence as UMaine will welcome in a recruiting class of at least 16 players to fill the numerous holes.
That group includes shortstops Brett Chappell of Rock Falls, Illinois, Alex Cabrera of Miami, Bobby Brennan of Fort Myers, Florida, and Caleb Kerbs of New York City, along with third baseman Danny Diaz of Miami, first baseman Christian Garabedian of Miami, catcher/infielder Kevin Stypulkowski of Lake Worth, Florida, and catcher Andy Moser of Ben Salem, Pennsylvania.
The Bears also will restock their pitching staff with the likes of righties Ivan Clough of Dublin, New Hampshire, John Arel of Burlington, Connecticut, Justin Courtney of Bangor, Jonah Normandeau of Cumberland, Chris Murphy of Billerica, Massachusetts, River Carbone of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and Clay Conway of Georgetown, Delaware. Left-hander Connor Johnson of Taunton, Massachusetts also joins the ballclub.