ORONO, Maine — James Alfonso knew exactly what he was up against Sunday at Mahaney Diamond.
The University of Hartford’s catcher also caught for UMaine pitcher Mike Connolly when they were teammates Bridgewater-Raynham High School in Massachusetts.
In the eighth inning of a scoreless America East game on Sunday, Alfonso was looking for the right-hander’s curveball. Alfonso hammered a 1-0 curve off the back of the football grandstand beyond the left-field fence, giving lefty Sean Newcomb the only run he would need in Hartford’s 1-0 baseball victory.
“That was definitely cool,” Alfonso said after the Hawks took the series finale.
“He really didn’t double up on a lot of fastballs today and he missed 1-0 on a fastball, so I had a feeling he was probably going to go with an offspeed pitch there,” he explained.
“If you want to hit a curveball over the fence, then I’m just going to tip my cap,” Connolly said, “because that is not in any way a mistake. It’s just a good piece of hitting.”
Hartford (14-27, 11-10 AE) took the series after winning Saturday’s second game 3-1. The first-place Black Bears (25-17, 14-6 AE), who won Saturday’s opener 5-3, now lead Albany by 1 1/2 games.
On Saturday, senior Mike Fransoso set UMaine’s stolen base record with the 70th of his career. He eclipsed the mark set by Mark Sweeney (1988-91).
In Sunday’s game, Newcomb also got the best of a hometown buddy. He and Connolly grew up together in Middleboro, Mass.
The sophomore left-hander fired a three-hit shutout, mixing a fastball in the mid-90s with a slider and a changeup. Newcomb (4-3) dominated, striking out seven and walking two while throwing 126 pitches.
“That was fun,” admitted Newcomb, who exhibited none of the erratic tendencies that have plagued him at times. “I knew I was going out against [Connolly]. We were talking last night.”
It was another heartbreaking pitchers’ duel for Connolly (4-3). The junior righty gave up only three hits with five strikeouts and two walks. He threw just 92 pitches.
Connolly, who worked nine shutout innings a week earlier against Stony Brook, has not had a run scored on his behalf in 18 innings.
Fransoso doubled and singled for the Bears, who got three runners into scoring position but could not come up with a clutch hit.
“When you face a guy like that, you’ve got to grind it out,” Connolly said of Newcomb. “When you have guys on second and third base, you have to find a way to win, and we just didn’t do that.”
UMaine’s best threat came in the seventh when Fransoso lined an opposite-field double to left-center to open the inning. However, Newcomb struck out Alex Calbick before inducing Eric White’s hard bouncer to first base on which Fransoso was erased at the plate.
Bears coach Steve Trimper said he considered a squeeze bunt with one out, but showed confidence in Brewer’s White and let him swing away.
“They got one big hit, we didn’t,” Trimper said. “[Fransoso] got a big hit, then we had two chances to get him in and we just didn’t get that big hit.”
On Saturday, the Bears managed only 10 hits in 16 innings.
“There’s no excuse for it, besides the fact that they dominated us, throwing two pitches for strikes,” Trimper said.
In Game 1, Brian Doran’s two-run single highlighted a four-run sixth that came after Hartford starter Kyle Gauthier was lifted despite allowing only three hits and one run.
Fransoso’s steal of second base in the fourth made him the Bears’ all-time leader.
“It can affect your mind sometimes, so I’m glad I just got it out of the way in the first few innings,” Fransoso said.
Junior right-hander Tommy Lawrence (8-2) worked 6 1/3 innings to earn his seventh consecutive victory. He struck out four, walked two and hit a batter before giving way to Shaun Coughlin, who induced a game-ending 5-3 double play with the bases loaded in the seventh.
Doran added a sacrifice fly for UMaine, which received two singles each from White and Connolly, each of whom had an RBI hit in the sixth inning.
Brian Murphy (0-2) was the losing pitcher for Hartford, giving up four hits and three earned runs with a balk and a wild pitch in the sixth.
Brian Estevez stroked a double and two singles and drove in two runs to pace the Hawks.
UMaine’s rally in the sixth started with a walk to Sam Balzano and Fransoso’s bunt single. Calbick laid down a sacrifice bunt and reached on Murphy’s high throw to first.
Doran plated the first two runs with a single through the middle. One out later, White and Connolly stroked RBI singles.
“We struggled a little bit,” Doran said. “The pitching did great; defense, we were awesome. It’s just the bats weren’t there.”
The Hawks responded in the second game as reliever Anthony Mannuccia pitched four shutout innings. Three pitchers held UMaine to three hits and an unearned run.
Mannuccia (2-3) gave up one hit, struck out six and did not walk a batter.
“Their bullpen guy came in and shut the door,” Doran said. “He hit his spots. It’s tough to hit when he’s throwing two pitches for strikes.”
Jeremy Charles pitched the ninth to earn the save.
Stover doubled and tripled among only four hits for the Hawks, who scored all the runs they would need in the second against A.J. Bazdanes (5-4). The rally included a walk, two passed balls, a hit batsman and a sacrifice fly.
UMaine, which left the bases loaded in the second and could not plate a runner from second with nobody out in the third, scored in the fourth on Kyle Silva’s sac fly.
UMaine went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
“We had the bases loaded, one out; we had second and third, no outs, and we swung through fastballs and got a little too anxious there,” Trimper said.
Hartford added an insurance tally in the eighth when Stover tripled and scored on DelDebbio’s sac fly.
Bazdanes allowed four hits and one earned run in eight innings, fanned a season-high 10, walked three and hit three batters.