In only his second season as the head coach at Stetson University, former University of Maine baseball coach Steve Trimper finds himself only two wins away from going to the College World Series.
The No. 11 Hatters, based in DeLand, Florida, are 48-11 and have won a school-record 18 straight games. That includes three in their own NCAA Division I regional last weekend.
Stetson visits No. 6 North Carolina for a best-of-three Super Regional at Chapel Hill for the right to play in the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
“I didn’t think we would be this successful this fast,” the 48-year-old Trimper admitted. “(After last season), I asked the kids who were coming back where they wanted to be this season. They all said Omaha is where they wanted to be.”
Trimper spent 11 seasons at UMaine and led the Black Bears to a 309-292-2 record and two NCAA tournament berths.
This season, Stetson increased its practice intensity and created a winning culture geared to reaching the College World Series for the first time in program history.
“Everybody had to up their game. And they bought into it. They’re great kids and now we’re two wins away from going to Omaha.”
Stetson boasts the lowest earned run average in the country at 2.58.
“We’re built on pitching and defense and we’ve started swinging the bats a lot better lately,” said Trimper, whose team scored 29 runs in three regional victories.
The ace of his staff, junior right-hander Logan Gilbert, was selected in the first round (14th overall) of the Major League draft by Seattle earlier this week.
Trimper said there is a similarity between Stetson and the University of Maine.
“Both schools are in small towns. DeLand and the Greater Bangor area aren’t that different,” Trimper said.
However, there are two big differences.
“But here we have a couple different things: weather and the recruiting hotbed of the country,” Trimper said.
Trimper said Stetson rallies around the baseball program and that president Wendy B. Libby and athletic director Jeff Altier wanted to take the program to the next level.
Their off-campus ballpark, Melching Field at Conrad Park, seats 2,500 and is owned by the city.
This year’s regional was the first ever hosted by the Hatters.
“We’re the only tenant and the city supports us like crazy,” said Trimper.
Trimper has only been at Stetson for 18 months after Peter Dunn, an American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, announced that the 2017 season was going to his 38th and final season.
But, after undergoing knee replacement surgery and going on extended medical leave, he decided to retire immediately in December 2016.
Trimper, who had become friends with Dunn because UMaine usually played Stetson during their two-week spring trips, got the job but encountered some challenges.
“It took time to build relationships with the players and the coaches and we had to remake the culture,” said Trimper, whose team went 0-2 in the 2017 Atlantic Sun tournament.
Last July, Trimper hired former University of Miami and University of Central Florida assistant Joe Mercadante as an assistant. He had been involved with the successful Central Florida Gators and Orlando Scorpions travel baseball programs.
Trimper, who recruited players from south Florida when he was at UMaine, said Mercadante has been a tremendous help recruiting players from central Florida.
He also took Dunn’s recommendation and retained pitching coach Dave Therneau.
Trimper finds himself with much more time to devote to coaching — and in warm weather. And Stetson doesn’t travel nearly as much as UMaine since there are many Division I teams in Florida.
He has the luxury of scheduling midweek non-conference games against nationally-ranked opponents which helps the Hatters’ Ratings Percentage Index, the formula used to determine NCAA postseason seedings.
That gives Stetson a legitimate chance to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament, a luxury he never had at UMaine.
Florida State, Central Florida and South Florida were among Trimper’s non-conference opponents.
UMaine’s only path to the NCAA tournament is to win the America East tournament.
“It’s easier to teach every single day in 85-degree weather. I have such a new-found appreciation for the job coach (John) Winkin did it all those years, making those successful runs (to the College World Series) with the weather and travel he had to deal with.”
At UMaine, Trimper also spent a lot of time fundraising to keep the program competitive.
“I had to raise money at Maine in order to take trips and buy equipment but that’s just the way it is, not just at Maine, but for a lot of programs,” Trimper said. “But Maine gave me a foundation to do that and there were people willing to get involved with it.”
He does fundraising at Stetson, but it is more along the lines of meeting with potential donors.
Trimper said coaching in the Northeast isn’t easy but he will always cherish his time at UMaine.
“I met so many wonderful people at Maine. I’ll never forget it. (Former UMaine football and baseball star and Clemson baseball coach) Jack Leggett told me his experience at Maine was a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. For my time at Maine, it was an 11 out of 10. It will always be be near and dear to my heart,” Trimper said.
He was ecstatic to hear that UMaine shortstop Jeremy Pena was drafted in the third round by Houston and and catcher Chris Bec was selected in the fifth round by Toronto.
“They work hard and are selfless kids who care about the team first,” Trimper said. “There are a lot of top programs like Miami, Ole Miss and Florida State who didn’t have players chosen in the third and fifth rounds.”
Trimper said he hasn’t forgotten that there are plenty of good players in the Northeast and and the Trenton, New Jersey, native said he will spend time recruiting there.
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