ORONO — Momentous home runs were the order of the afternoon Saturday at sun-drenched Mahaney Diamond.
Justin Leisenheimer’s two-run shot fueled a nine-run rally in the University of Maine’s 11-8 opening-game vic-tory, then Dave Soltis hit a game-winning solo shot in the ninth inning of the second game Vermont won 5-4 to earn a split of their America East baseball doubleheader.
The Black Bears (25-14, 8-2 AE) and Catamounts (11-24, 3-6 AE) play another 1 p.m. doubleheader today. It will consist of a seven-inning first game and a nine-inning nightcap.
There was a palpable increase in intensity Saturday as UMaine entertained longtime rival Vermont, whose pro-gram is scheduled for elimination at the end of this season.
“It’s Vermont’s last year and the past few years, it’s always been tough games against them,” said UMaine junior captain Myckie Lugbauer. “They have a quality ballclub and even though they’re not going to be around next year, they’re still going out there trying to win ballgames like we are.”
In the opener, the Bears pounded out seven hits while piling up nine runs in the sixth inning to erase a four-run deficit and break the game open.
Leisenheimer jumpstarted the uprising with a three-run home run to center field (400 feet) against Vermont starter Joe Serafin (2-6), who appeared to run out of gas in the inning.
“That pitch right there, I was looking for a fastball first pitch and I put a good swing on it,” Leisenheimer said. “It was a good feeling.”
Billy Cather lashed a two-run double and Ian Leisenheimer ripped a two-run single in the inning as UMaine energized an appreciative crowd of 582. The Bears’ first nine batters reached base.
“I really don’t think there’s a lineup in America East that can compare to ours,” Justin Leisenheimer said.
“After we tied the game up, everyone’s like ‘OK, let’s go, 0-0 ballgame, let’s start new and pile on runs,’” he added. “There were no outs and we had the whole inning to work off.”
The Catamounts had scored three times in the top of the fifth to take a 6-2 lead, chasing UMaine starter Jon Balentina in the process. Kevin Scanlan (3-3) limited UVM to two runs in the final 2 1/3 innings to help the hosts hold on.
Jarrett Lukas of Old Town doubled twice and Lugbauer doubled and singled among 10 hits by UMaine. Cather added another double and Tony Patane knocked in two runs with a single and a sacrifice fly.
Tom Kelly hit a two-run single and had a bases-loaded walk for the Catamounts, who got two hits apiece from Mike McCarthy (double), Justin Milo and Ethan Paquette.
In Game 2, freshman Soltis homered to lift Vermont to an emotional victory.
“We were trying to attack the hitter and it just so happened that he left the ball up a little bit,” Lugbauer said of Bilodeau’s first-pitch fastball.
Soltis’ shot to left-center off reliever Keith Bilodeau (1-5) for his first collegiate homer rewarded gritty Catamounts starter Justin Albert (4-5).
The senior lefthander worked his way out of frequent trouble, spreading out 11 hits while going the distance and throwing 149 pitches.
“Starting in the seventh my pitch count was pretty high, but luckily it’s really hot out and actually I felt the best I’ve felt in a while,” Albert said. “Especially in a close game like this, where I knew I was feeling good, there was no way I was coming out.”
Albert struck out 11, walked two and hit a batter, leaving 12 UMaine runners on the basepaths.
The Bears went 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position, including failing to score after loading the bases with nobody out in the fourth inning.
“We didn’t get a run in there. That really swung momentum the other way,” Trimper said. “If we chip for a run or two right there, we put a lot more pressure on them.”
Soltis, a late-game substitution as a pinch-runner, came up with one out in the ninth. He drove the first pitch he saw over the fence in front of the scoreboard to provide the Cats with the margin of victory.
“We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder after everything that’s happened this year with how much we’ve had to overcome,” Albert said. “It drives us to play that much harder.”
Milo had lined a two-run shot to right field off Bears starter A.J. Bazdanes in the eighth to give UVM a short-lived 4-2 lead.
UMaine rallied for two runs in the bottom of the inning on back-to-back home runs by Kevin McAvoy of Brewer and Justin Leisenheimer.
Kyle Stilphen of Pittston singled three times and added an RBI for the Bears. Lugbauer singled twice with an RBI and McAvoy added a single.
Kelly doubled and singled and Duffy singled twice for the Catamounts.