FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Last Sunday in Orono, the University of Maine got a two-inning peek at Binghamton ace righthander Zach Groh.
Thursday afternoon, in the opening game of the America East Baseball Championship, the Black Bears saw more than enough of the all-conference first-team pick.
Groh allowed only three runs in 7 2/3 innings, benefiting from a key four-run outburst in the seventh, to lead top-seeded Binghamton to a 9-3 victory over UMaine at sun-soaked Farmingdale State College.
“I basically just went out there and let my fielders do the job for me; a lot of plays in the infield, a lot of fly balls in the outfield,” said Groh (7-1), who took advantage of his sharp slider.
The loss sends coach Steve Trimper’s 21-30 Bears, the two-time defending conference champions, into today’s 3:05 p.m. losers’ bracket contest. They face No. 2 Stony Brook (31-23), which lost 5-2 to No. 3 Albany (27-27) in Thursday’s 7:35 p.m. game.
UMaine realizes “three-peating” will be a more difficult task.
“We know we’ve got to win [at least] three. It’s not impossible, a three-game winning streak,” said sophomore Billy Cather, who homered, singled, walked and stole a base to pace UMaine.
“We’re really looking forward to the next few days. We’ve really got to go after it,” he added.
It was an inauspicious start to the postseason for UMaine, which managed only four hits, committed two costly fielding errors, ran into an out on the basepaths and didn’t get quite enough out of junior lefty Brad Hertzler (4-5).
“It’s tournament games and you’ve got to play clean, you’ve got to execute,” Trimper said.
“We’ve got to be able to execute physically on all of those plays.”
Clinging to a 2-1 edge, Binghamton rallied in the seventh. Jeff Charron led with a single through the box, then was erased on Pat Haughie’s failed sacrifice bunt attempt.
However, the Bearcats pounded the right-center gap on Henry Dunn’s RBI triple, Justin Smucker’s RBI double and Ryan James’ (4-for-5) run-scoring single.
“In college baseball, that’s what happens when you put balls down the middle. They’re going to hit them no matter what they are, any count,” said Hertzler, who admitted tiring a bit.
He struck out five and did not walk a batter, but was called for two balks. Two of the six runs he allowed were unearned.
Trimper said the earlier errors also led to Hertzler throwing more pitches (111) and hastening his fatigue.
Nolan Boike came on and got a quick out before Matt Simek doubled to make it 6-1.
“That’s been like the story of our season,” Groh said. “Our pitching staff gives us a chance to win and our hitters go out there and work the counts, get the hits that we need, timely hits.”
Curt Smith crushed a two-run homer over the scoreboard in left field with Cather (walk) aboard to chase Groh in the eighth, but Greg Lane retired the four men he faced to close out the game.
Cather had staked the Bears to a 1-0 lead, drilling a one-out home run to right-center in the first inning.
The Bearcats answered in the bottom of the inning on an infield single, a balk, a fielding error by Smith at third base and Kyle Klee’s line-drive RBI single.
Groh afforded UMaine only three hits after that, including Smith’s mammoth two-run blast.
The Bears had a one-out base runner in the fourth when Kevin McAvoy walked, but he was doubled off on Kevin Jackson’s high chopper to the pitcher. McAvoy, who had broken for second base, thought the ball was foul and retreated to first, where he was tagged out.
“That killed us right there,” Trimper said. “You can’t have a mental lapse like that.”
Binghamton made it 2-1 in the fourth when Simek doubled to left-center, advanced on a sacrifice bunt and scored when shortstop Brian Hackett failed to handle Charron’s two-out grounder.
UMaine hopes to start fresh today and stave off elimination.
“We’d certainly like to be on the winners’ side of the bracket, but coming from the losers’ side is not that big of a deal to us right now in a four-team tournament,” Trimper said.
“It’s one team, they react pretty well when their backs are up against the wall.”
BEARCATS 9, BLACK BEARS 3
Maine (21-30) Binghamton (27-17)
Player AB R H BI Player AB R H BI
McGraw, lf 4 0 0 0 Smucker, ss 5 2 2
Cather, cf 3 2 2 1 James, 3b 5 2 2
Smith, 3b 4 1 1 2 Hitchcock, 1b 4 0 0
Barrett, 1b 3 0 1 0 Simek, 2b 5 1 2
Lugbauer, c 4 0 0 0 Klee, dh 3 0 1
McAvoy, rf 3 0 0 0 Monaco, rf 4 0 0
Jackson, dh 3 0 0 0 Charron, lf 2 1 0
B. Hackett, ss 3 0 0 0 Haughie, c 4 0
Menendez, 2b 3 0 0 0 Dunn, cf 3 2 1
Totals 30 3 4 3 Totals 35 9 12 8
Maine 100 000 020 – 3
Binghamton 100 100 43x – 9
E-Smith (21), Lugbauer (1), B. Hackett (12); Smucker (11); LOB-Maine 4, Binghamton 8; 2B-Barrett; Smucker, James, Simek 2, Monaco; 3B-Dunn; HR-Cather (4), Smith (8); DP-Groh-Hitchcock; S-Klee, Charron; SB-Cather (17); Charron (6)
Maine IP H R ER BB SO
Hertzler (L, 4-5) 6 1/3 9 6 4 0 5
Boike 1 1 2 2 3 1
Powers 2/3 2 1 1 1 0
Binghamton IP H R ER BB SO
Groh (W, 7-1) 7 2/3 4 3 3 4 6
Lane 1 1/3 0 0 0 0 0
Boike pitched to three batters in the eighth inning.
BK-Hertzler 2; T-2:33; ATT-196