A sense of relief resonated within the University of Maine baseball team last weekend.
Coach Steve Trimper’s Black Bears finally broke out of a protracted funk, including an eight-game losing streak, while sweeping a four-game America East series from Maryland Baltimore County on a neutral field in Mansfield, Conn.
The players’ demeanor began to change after Friday’s sweep and it was noticeably more positive after UMaine closed out the series while improving to 9-19, 4-4 in conference play.
Trimper said the difference in getting things turned around was the outstanding pitching turned in by the Bears’ staff.
“We needed to go out and get good pitching,” Trimper said. “It sets the tempo for the team.”
UMaine’s four starters averaged 6 2/3 innings, 7 hits, 1.8 earned runs, 6.7 strikeouts, and 0.5 walks in their outings.
Lefthander Brad Hertzler (1-3) got the weekend off to a strong start with seven innings of four-hit ball in the opener, then righthander Mike Powers (0-3) of Portland had a decent outing in the second game but didn’t figure in the decision.
Greg Norton of South Portland (3-3) pitched as well as he has all season in Saturday’s opener, while recently converted closer Alejandro Balsinde (1-3) went nine strong innings to cap off the series.
“We played four games and gave up one run in three of the games,” Trimper said. “That was a huge turnaround in our pitching. I’m very proud of how they reacted.”
Senior co-captain Joel Barrett of Brewer explained the importance of effective pitching carries over to other aspects of the ballclub, including the defense. That is especially true when they are able to get ahead in the count.
UMaine made only two errors in the last three games of the UMBC series and seemed to gain confidence with each game.
“It makes the defense play better,” Barrett said. “You hate walks as a defensive player and that’s the one thing that kind of drives us crazy. They threw strikes and that’s a big thing. It’s confidence for them and it’s confidence for us going from offense to defense.”
The Bears also exhibited the kind of resilience that had eluded them earlier this season. They went into the UMBC series having going 0-15 in games during which they trailed after six innings.
UMaine twice rallied from a sixth-inning deficit to beat the Retrievers.
“It was nice to come from behind in that second game [a 7-6, eight-inning victory]. I think that was the big game,” Barrett said.
“We haven’t been playing well from behind and to get that kind of momentum swing – down two runs in the bottom of the last inning – that’s a huge win for us confidence-wise, momentum-wise, and that really set the tone, basically, for the whole feeling of the weekend.”
From an offensive standpoint, the Bears also adopted a bit of a philosophical change. The team took a more aggressive mindset into its at-bats and didn’t sit around waiting for one swing of the bat to change the momentum.
“I think in the last couple weeks, to no one’s fault, we’ve sort of been waiting for that two- or three-run home run,” said senior co-captain Matt McGraw, who admitted last year’s team could afford to do that at times.
“[Last] weekend you saw more wheels put into motion,” he explained. “You have all kinds of ‘small ball’ going on. That sometimes motivates guys to put better at-bats together.”
The Bears were able to string together some hits, move runners with sacrifices or productive outs, and establish more of an attack mentality at the plate and on the bases.
UMaine’s scheduled nonleague game against Thomas College of Waterville has been canceled, which means the Bears must wait until Friday when they open a three-game nonconference series against New York Tech on the FieldTurf at Husson College’s Winkin Baseball Complex in Bangor.