Looking at the statistics, you wouldn’t expect the University of Maine baseball team to be in last place in Division A of America East baseball.
This season, the league was divided into two, four-team divisions, and the top two in each qualify for the playoffs.
Even though UMaine’s .266 batting average ranks second among the eight conference teams and its 4.70 earned run average is third, the Black Bears are 11-14 in Division A with eight games left.
The good news is, the Black Bears (16-17) are well within striking distance of a playoff spot heading into the last two weekends of the regular season.
Division leader Albany is 16-14, Hartford is 15-15 and UMass Lowell is 14-16.
“If we win our last two series, we’ll be in the playoffs. We won’t need any help,” said UMaine head coach Nick Derba, who is confident his team is capable of doing so.
“It’s the craziest thing. I always think we’re the best team on the field but our record doesn’t show it,” Derba said. “It’s frustrating.”
UMaine travels to Hartford for a four-game set this weekend and hosts Albany for four the following weekend.
“This is the most confusing team I’ve been a part of in my entire career,” said Derba, who took over as the interim head coach in 2017 when Steve Trimper left to take the head coaching job at Stetson University.
UMaine got off to a positive start with a 7-5 record in America East games, but has since gone 4-9, including losing six of eight contests against UMass Lowell.
Derba said the primary reason for his team’s record has been its inability to come up with clutch hits.
UMaine averages 5.7 runs per game and has scored eight runs or more 12 times. The Black Bears are averaging 6.9 runners left on base in league play, which includes back-to-back doubleheaders with a seven-inning game and a nine-inning contest each day.
“We aren’t scoring enough to win games,” he said.
The Black Bears have five of the league’s top 26 hitters in right fielder Sean Lawlor (.364, fourth in the conference), third baseman Connor Goodman (.302, 20th), left fielder Scout Knotts (.299, 21st), Eliot second baseman Quinn McDaniel (.297, 22nd) and center fielder Jeff Mejia (.288, 26th).
Flagler College transfer Lawlor ranks fourth in the league in on-base percentage (.445), sixth in hits (43), seventh in runs batted in (27) and slugging percentage (.559) and is tied for ninth in runs scored (29).
Knotts, a transfer from Shippensburg University, ranks fifth with 33 runs scored.
Lawlor and first baseman Joe Bramanti share the team lead with four home runs each.
Junior right-hander Nick Sinacola continues to have one of the best seasons in program history. He is 8-1 with a 1.41 earned run average. He leads the conference in wins, ERA and strikeouts with 107 in 57 1/3 innings. Hitters are batting .182 against him.
Three in-state pitchers also are having productive seasons. South Portland freshman Noah Lewis is 3-4 with a 4.14 ERA; Brewer redshirt senior Matt Pushard is 0-0 with a 3.62 ERA and Hampden redshirt junior Alex McKenney is 3-5 with a 4.50 ERA.
McKenney has allowed just one earned one in two of his last four starts and went seven innings in each. He is holding opposing hitters to a .208 average.
“He has been a bright spot and all three have been reliable,” said Derba, who also is pleased with freshman Tyler Nielsen (1-2, 3.94).
Despite his team’s inconsistency, which includes its fielding, Derba believes UMaine can finish strong and make the playoffs.
“I still think we’re a good team. I’m confident we can pull this off,” he said.