Black Bears lead conference pack

Posted April 20, 2009, at 9:34 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Two weeks into its America East schedule, the University of Maine finds itself atop the conference baseball standings.

Coach Steve Trimper’s Black Bears are 24-13, including a 7-1 league mark. UMaine already has surpassed its win total (20) from all of last season.

The Bears have demonstrated proficiency in all phases of the game. They boast a .338 team batting average while featuring a shrinking 4.58 team earned run average and a solid .965 fielding percentage.

UMaine has positioned itself well heading into next weekend’s home series against longtime rival Vermont.

“We’re 7-1 right now and we took care of what we had to do, what we expected to do, and now we’ve got a tough Vermont team coming in next week,” Trimper said after the Bears completed a four-game sweep of Maryland Baltimore County on Sunday afternoon.

UMaine’s schedule has thus far pitted it against what appear to be the two weakest teams in America East. The upcoming series with Vermont and Albany should represent tougher games against middle-of-the-pack ballclubs.

While things have come fairly easily much of the time (UMaine’s average margin of victory in league play is 5.0 runs), the Bears answered the call when tested in Sunday’s finale.

One swing of the bat erased a 4-0 UMaine lead, but the Bears responded by winning the contest on a Jarrett Lukas home run.

Senior co-captain Kevin McAvoy of Brewer explained the effort shows the team is motivated to accomplish some lofty goals this spring.

“I don’t know the last time Maine’s hosted the conference tournament (2004), so we’re trying to work every day toward a few goals and that’s one of them,” said McAvoy, who remains among the Bears’ top hitters (.414 average, five home runs, 28 runs batted in).

“Winning games like this is going to give us that opportunity,” he added.

UMaine is scheduled to face Holy Cross today at 4 p.m. in a nonleague game at Goodall Park in Sanford. The weather forecast is calling for rain.

Menendez stealing the show

Senior Danny Menendez carved his name in the UMaine baseball record books during Sunday’s second game.

The Bears’ co-captain stole four bases in the contest, the first team that feat has been accomplished in program history. The previous record (3) has been shared by several players, including Menendez.

In the process, the second baseman moved closer to establishing a new UMaine single-season standard. Menendez has stolen 26 bases in 31 attempts and now needs 10 to eclipse the record of 35 set by Brewer’s Chad White back in 1993.

Menendez also remained among the national leaders in sacrifice hits, logging two more over the weekend. He now has 14 on the season for the Bears, who have 26 as a team.

Double the fun

The Bears also continued to play outstanding defense against the Retrievers.

UMaine rattled off nine double plays in the four games, including five in Saturday’s seven-inning first game. Lefthander Jonathan Balentina was the beneficiary.

“It’s a great feeling,” Balentina said. “As a pitcher that’s awesome to know that you’ve got that defense behind you to get you out of jams.”

The Bears are chasing a school single-season record for double plays. They have turned 51 through 37 games and need 14 to eclipse the mark of 64 set by the 2005 squad.

“It gets [opponents] down when we turn double plays like that and it’s good for our pitchers, too,” Patane said. “It keeps their pitch count low and really gets them out of big innings.”

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