Matt Pushard, a Brewer native and closer for the University of Maine baseball team, is one of two players who have transformed the culture of the team. Credit: Tyler Neville / UMaine Athletics

Joe Bramanti and Matt Pushard remember the dark days of UMaine baseball.

“My junior year, we were 0-14. And during the COVID year [2020], we wound up 1-12,” recalled Pushard, the Brewer closer who is in his sixth season at UMaine. “Those were the lows of the lows.”

Those years followed 2018, when UMaine had a stretch in which it lost 13 of 14 games.

“Losing is the worst thing ever. And it’s really bad when you get used to losing and get complacent about it,” said first baseman-right fielder Bramanti, who is from North Andover, Massachusetts, and is in his fifth season at UMaine.

Bramanti and Pushard were among the players who set about trying to change the culture of the program from one that accepted losing to one that did everything it could to win. The Black Bears have now posted their first winning conference record since the 2013 team went 20-9 in America East.

Entering Friday’s game against Albany that kicked off a best-of-three series, UMaine was 19-5 in the conference and has already clinched the top seed for the six-team double-elimination America East Tournament that it will host May 25-28.

The Black Bears were 24-16 overall. It’s the first year they’ve had a winning overall record since 2013, when the team went 37-22.

They went 75-89 the previous seven seasons, and didn’t play any conference games in 2020.

Bramanti said when he was a freshman, the seniors were hard on younger players.

He admitted that he has also been hard on the underclassmen, “but I want what’s best for all of them. When we were freshmen, the seniors didn’t want the best for us.”

UMaine head coach Nick Derba said the acceptance factor has improved noticeably over his tenure. He was an assistant and then the interim head coach for a year before becoming the head coach five years ago.

“The team unity has gotten better every year,” Derba said.

“Joe, Matt and I have been to the depths of bad baseball,” Derba said.

“They were a big part of the culture change. The product you see today has a lot to do with them. They have conducted every moment of their lives like adults. They take care of their schoolwork, they are very nice people and they are from fantastic families. They treat everyone with kindness but when they are on the field, they are very fierce competitors and that is the embodiment of what Maine baseball needs to be.”

Freshman pitcher Caleb Leys said the team is close-knit, and that the seniors have set the tone for the culture of the program.

“The seniors have really helped me as a player and as a person,” Leys said. “They are always there for us.”

Bramanti and Pushard are two of the big pieces behind the team’s success, sophomore second baseman Quinn McDaniel said.

“A lot of individuals like Joe, Hernan (Sardinas) and I tried to create more of a team atmosphere,” said Pushard. “All of us push each other to be better in a positive way. Positive energy can go a long way.”

Bramanti choked back tears when talking about Saturday’s Senior Day festivities.

“A lot of my family is coming up this weekend and it’s going to be real hard for me,” said Bramanti, his voice reflecting his emotions. “This place is special to me. To play with these guys the last two years has been a lot of fun.”

Pushard said he feels the winning culture that has been created at UMaine will go on for years to come.

“When we lose now, it really hurts,” Bramanti said.