ORONO, Maine — One of the positive aspects of playing mid-week non-league games is it gives coaches the opportunity to insert some reserves into their starting lineups.
University of Maine junior catcher Joe Mercurio took full advantage of his opportunity Tuesday night as he collected three hits, including a two-run homer and two-run double, to lead the Black Bears to a 10-2 victory over Division III Thomas College of Waterville at Mahaney Diamond.
Maine improved to 27-15 while Thomas fell to 8-25.
His two-run homer to left off junior righthander Cory Estes from Old Town erased a 1-0 deficit in the third inning and he grounded his two-run double sharply down the third base line in the seven-run fifth inning that broke the game open.
“The biggest thing you want to do when he gives you your chance is to perform [well]. I guess that’s what I hadn’t been doing and today was a good to break out. It felt good,” said Mercurio, who raised his average from .178 to .224 by going three-for-four.
Mercurio said he knew Thomas’ pitchers wouldn’t throw as hard as America East pitchers so he had to make an adjustment.
“My whole mindset last night and today was ‘They aren’t going to be throwing as hard so try to keep your hands back and use the middle of the field,” said Mercurio.
Taylor Lewis, another reserve, started the third-inning rally with a double to left and Mercurio hit Estes’ one-strike pitch through a swirling wind over the left field fence.
“It was a fastball. It was up,” said Mercurio, who was “nervous” that the wind would keep it in the ballpark.
“I knew I got it pretty good. On a calm day, it would have went [out]. But I started running a little harder,” said Mercurio.
George Tager, another back-up, followed with a double and eventually scored on Justin Leisenheimer’s sacrifice fly.
Thomas closed within 3-2 in the top of the fifth when Tom Desjardins singled in a two-out run but the Black Bears erupted in the bottom of the inning off senior righty Patrick Rines and freshman righty Arthur Winship.
Justin Leisenheimer, Joey Martin and Kyle Stilphen had run-scoring singles off Rines before Mercurio doubled off Winship.
“He threw me the same pitch two times in a row. It was a slider that was up in the zone. The first one I thought was up [but it was called a strike] and then he threw the exact same pitch so I said ‘Well he’s going to call it a strike’ so I’ve got to swing at it,” said Mercurio. “Lucky enough I got the barrel on it and things happened.”
Thomas touched up Maine starter Kevin Scanlan for five hits and a run in four innings and they scored their second run off Jonathan Balentina.
But Matt Klaczkiewicz, Keith Bilodeau and Alejandro Balsinde hurled four innings of hitless shutout relief the rest of the way.
“These are very important games because it gives guys you didn’t use on the weekend a chance to get into a game. They get some at-bats and it keeps them fresh,” said Maine coach Steve Trimper. “Mercurio is a great example. He hadn’t been swinging the bat well early but he came in and went three-for-four.”
Thomas coach Greg King said he was encouraged by his team’s performance.
“We got a lot out of today. Our pitchers learned if they throw strikes they can get hitters out and our hitters didn’t look that bad. Sometimes we come up here and their pitchers make our hitters look bad,” said King who received impressive mound efforts from Estes and Winship.
“We played a lot better than I thought we would,” said Thomas freshman catcher Dana Leland from Alton.
Maine senior second baseman Danny Menendez set a school record with five stolen bases, giving him 33 on the season.
“This was definitely a good tune-up for us,” said Menendez.
Tager and Justin Leisenheimer had two hits and two RBIs apiece for Maine. Veazie’s Kyle Gallant had two singles for Thomas.