ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine baseball team is coming off perhaps the most challenging period of travel in program history.
Between Feb. 13 and March 16, the Black Bears spent only five days in Orono. They finally crawled back into their own beds at around 3 a.m. Monday.
“We just did the math; the past 33 days, 28 we were on the road,” UMaine coach Steve Trimper said. “That’s a record.”
On Sunday, UMaine capped off that grueling stretch of travel by splitting an America East doubleheader at Stony Brook.
The Black Bears (11-12, 2-1 AE) took two of three from the defending champions — who advanced to the College World Series — to open conference play. UMaine was the only league team to win a series on the road.
It was a positive outcome, given the dynamics of how the series fell at the end of March break and served as the opener under America East’s new 30-game, home-and-home schedule.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little bit concerned about the fact we were going into our toughest weekend, on paper, on the end of the spring trip,” Trimper said. “I really give the guys a ton of credit. They played pretty good baseball for three-quarters of the weekend.”
Pitching carried the Bears in two of the games. Tommy Lawrence blanked Stony Brook 1-0 in Saturday’s game, outdueling Brandon McNitt.
The junior righthander (2-2), who was named the pitcher of the week, spaced seven hits over nine innings while striking out seven, walking two and hitting two batters.
“The sign of a great pitcher is one who can still keep you in games and win when he doesn’t have his best stuff,” Trimper said. “Tommy didn’t have his great slider, but he pitched off his fastball. He’s a competitor.”
Junior Mike Connolly (2-2) caught the first two games, then pitched the third. He held the Seawolves to four hits and two runs with six strikeouts and four walks in seven innings.
“He went out there and pitched his butt off and basically kept us in the game,” Trimper said. “He threw 100 pitches after catching two games, then we put him back in there at catcher.”
In Sunday’s first game, the Bears could not solve Seawolves righty Frankie Vanderka, who allowed only four hits.
Senior center fielder Colin Gay and sophomore right fielder Brian Doran each posted four hits in the series. Scott Heath of Westbrook had three hits and added the game-winning sacrifice fly in the opener.
“Offensively, we manufactured some runs in those two wins,” Trimper said. “We had some timely hitting.”
UMaine also played errorless defense despite the cold temperatures, leading Trimper to mention his team was glad to be back on artificial turf after playing on hard dirt infields in Florida.
With classes back in session and the players in need of a break, the Bears planned to take Monday and Tuesday off before returning to practice.
Storm threatens home series
The significant snowstorm forecast to hit central Maine Tuesday and Wednesday could have an effect on the Bears’ home-opening series against Hartford.
UMaine is slated to play the Hawks on Saturday and Sunday at Mahaney Diamond. It is at least a week earlier than most home debuts.
Significant snow may well change that.
Rules surrounding the revamped league schedule dictate that if a home site is unplayable during the first five weeks of the season, it is automatically switched to the opposing team’s facility, if that is playable.
“If both sites are unplayable, then the series is canceled and the second time around, you play a four-game series,” said Trimper, who has already been in contact with Hartford.
He said the Hartford forecast is calling for rain, while Orono could receive several inches of snow that could jeopardize playing at Mahaney Diamond.
“It’s going to come down to how much snow we get and how quickly we can remove it,” Trimper said. “We’re going to follow the conference rule and do what’s best for both teams and see if we can get these three games in.”
Trimper said having to travel to Hartford wouldn’t be a big deal for the Black Bears, because most years they would have been on the road for nonleague games anyway.
Coaches clinic site changed
Trimper and Husson University coach Jason Harvey are gearing up for Thursday’s free baseball coaches clinic in Bangor.
Trimper explained that due to the overwhelming response from approximately 140 coaches from the Little League level up through the high school ranks, the event has been moved.
It will now be held at the Sea Dog Brewing Co., running from 6-8 p.m.
“It’s going to be us talking about some of the things we do, practice-wise, as guys start to coach in the next couple weeks,” Trimper said. “It’s about how to organize practices.”
Trimper said the focus is to help promote youth baseball in the Greater Bangor area by providing coaches with some tools to help their players succeed. He and Harvey also hope to generate some interest in their programs.
There will be door prizes, including sweatshirts and T-shirts.
Coaches who would like to participate can contact Ryan Forrest at 581-1096 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.