Interim head coach Nick Derba feels his University of Maine baseball team is “behind where it should be,” but his optimism hasn’t been dampened by his team’s 6-10 start.
“I love our defense and our pitching, and we have the the potential to be very explosive offensively,” said Derba, who feels strongly that his team is capable of winning the America East championship.
The Black Bears were scheduled to open their America East schedule this weekend at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, but the series was cancelled because of a snowstorm.
Derba said UMaine must establish an offensive catalyst and find more pitching consistency before its three-game set at St. John’s University on March 25 and 26.
“We need an offensive leader … someone who will get the big hit for us,” said Derba, whose team has averaged 8.1 men left on base per game.
He has been generally pleased with the pitching, but he said the staff must throw more strikes and not allow so many big innings.
UMaine has allowed three or more runs in an inning 11 times. It has surrendered seven, three-run innings, two, four-run innings, a five-run inning and an 11-run frame.
The pitching staff has issued 5.7 walks per game and uncorked 19 wild pitches and has a team earned run average of 4.68.
Sophomore Nick Silva, the closer last season, is off to an impressive start with a 1-0 record, 2.45 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 22 innings.
“He is putting up quality starts on a consistent basis. We give him the baseball, and he has taken care of business,” Derba said.
Junior right-handers Justin Courtney of Bangor (2-1, 5.24) and Jonah Normandeau of Cumberland (0-2, 5.57) will be the other starters with Bangor freshman lefty Trevor DeLaite (0-1, 3.52) emerging as the fourth starter and reliever.
DeLaite and classmate Cody Laweryson of Bingham (0-1, 1.50 ERA, 16 strikeouts, 2 walks in 12 innings), a reliever, have been bright spots.
“They have high upsides, and they’re getting better every day,” Derba said.
“Laweryson has been invaluable in the bullpen. He comes in and throws strikes and gets outs,” Derba said. “Trevor has gotten a ton of ground balls and a lot of swings and misses. He just needs to throw more strikes.”
DeLaite has walked 13 in 15 innings.
Junior right-hander John Arel, who had the second most starts last year (11), has been bothered by bone spurs in his arm. He has begun throwing and could return in two weeks.
Junior Chris Murphy led the team in starts in 2016 with 12 but was plagued by walks (45 in 41⅔ innings). That trend continued on the spring trip with 10 walks in 4⅓ innings.
Senior Jeff Gelinas of Saco has three saves as the closer and hasn’t allowed an earned run in 6⅔ innings.
Derba has also liked the competitive nature of Brewer freshman righty Matt Pushard (1-0, 1.69 in 5⅓ innings) and plans to give him more innings.
Juniors Zach Winn (0-0, 6.17) and Connor Johnson (2-2, 8.10), sophomore Eddie Emerson of Lewiston (0-0, 9.53) and freshman Ryan Worthington (0-0, 2.70 ERA) have seen bullpen service.
“I’m going to utilize the bullpen because we have the depth to be able to do it,” Derba said. “We’ll have more success if we use our bullpen rather than hoping for one guy to go out and throw a complete game.”
Junior catcher Chris Bec, a junior college transfer from Miami, and sophomore third baseman Danny Casals are the only Black Bears hitting over .266. Bec (.368) leads the team in runs batted in (8), hits (25) and doubles (7) while Casals is at .297 with five RBIs. Senior right fielder Tyler Schwanz (.266) leads the team with two homers.
UMaine is batting .251 overall, averaging four runs per game, and has struck out eight times per contest.
“We’ve got to put the ball in play a little more and we need more quality at-bats in big situations. Our pitch selection the past five or six games has been horrendous,” said Derba, who pointed out the team hit .207 in March last year.
“There’s no reason we can’t hit close to .300 as a team and average six or seven runs per game,” Derba said.
Newcomers Brandon Vicens, the center fielder, and first baseman Hernen Sardinas are hitting .237 with six RBIs each and designated hitter-catcher Jonathan Bennett is at .228 with seven RBIs. Returnees Lou Della Fera (.213), who has been the left fielder, second baseman Caleb Kerbs (.208) and shortstop Jeremy Pena (.206) are off to sluggish starts.
Pena hit .283 a year ago.
Sophomore left fielder Colin Ridley, who hit .299 in 2016, second only to Casals (.310) among the regulars, has not played yet because of hand surgery. Derba is hoping to get him back in the next two weeks.