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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Greg Norton walked off the field Saturday afternoon for the final time as a member of the University of Maine baseball team.
The senior tri-captain from South Portland moved slowly through the gate toward his parents, James and Lona, who greeted him with hugs.
“It was fun while it lasted,” Lona Norton said to her son, summing up the feeling shared by the Black Bears after a season-ending 13-4 loss to Binghamton in the America East playoffs at Farmingdale State College.
Coach Steve Trimper’s Bears closed out the season 22-31, the program’s worst record since 1996 and its first losing season since 1998.
“We need to remember this feeling, because this hurts right now,” said sophomore Billy Cather, who went 8-for-12 with seven runs scored in the tournament. “Everybody needs to remember how it feels and take it into the offseason.”
Cather was selected to the all-tournament team along with teammate Curt Smith, who was 6-for-12 with two homers and five RBIs.
Albany pitcher Corey Warrings, who worked 6 1/3 scoreless innings his team’s 1-0 championship-game victory over Binghamton on Saturday night, was named the most outstanding player.
A lack of quality pitching and overall mound depth finally caught up to UMaine in the tournament.
The Bearcats (28-19) scored eight times in the first four innings against three different UMaine pitchers. The Bears gave up 13 hits, issued six walks and hit two batters.
“Coming out of the losers’ bracket, which is an extra two games, you’ve got to have some [pitching] depth and that kind of hurt us in this tournament,” Trimper said. “That hurt us on the year.”
Binghamton lefthander Scott Diamond (5-3) was a bit shaky early, but settled down and shut out the Bears over the final five innings. Diamond retired the last 11 UMaine batters he faced and allowed only one baserunner (on a fielding error) after Curt Smith’s one-out single in the fourth.
“It’s tough when they’ve got a great pitcher in there,” Cather said of trying to battle back.
The Bears collected 11 hits in the first four innings, but wound up scoring only the four runs. UMaine stranded six baserunners during that stretch.
“We did get a lot of hits, but we didn’t get them at the right time and that happens in baseball,” said Curt Smith.
Binghamton roughed up Bears starter Alejandro Balsinde (3-5) to the tune of six runs and seven hits in the first two innings.
“A.J.’s a gamer,” Trimper said of the converted closer. “He overachieved. Today was a question of he left the ball up and they hit it.”
UMaine actually closed the deficit to 6-3 in the third. Smith drew a one-out walk, Joel Barrett of Brewer pulled a single to left and Mark Ostrander beat out an infield single to load the bases with two out.
Kevin McAvoy of Brewer followed with a hard two-run single to left. However, he was called out while trying to take second on the throw to third.
“We were actually coming back,” Trimper said. “We had a questionable call at second base and Mac made the right baserunning move trying to move up on that. One more hit and we’re 6-5 and we’re right back into a one-run game.”
The Bearcats responded by scoring four times in the fourth to put the Bears back in a big hole. Four walks and a hit batsman helped fuel that rally.
Cather doubled and singled with an RBI and Smith provided two singles and an RBI to pace UMaine.
America East Player of the Year Brendon Hitchcock led Binghamton with a solo home run, an RBI single and a two-run single.
It was the final game for Bears seniors Matt McGraw, Barrett and Norton, all of whom were key cogs in UMaine’s success in recent years.
“The disappointing thing is, we let three great seniors go,” Trimper said. “Norty, Joel and Matty, they’re class individuals and had great careers.”
BEARCATS 13, BLACK BEARS 4
Binghamton (28-18) Maine (22-31)
Player AB R H BI Player AB R H BI
Smucker, ss 5 2 1 1 McGraw, lf 4 0 0
James, 3b 4 3 1 1 Cather, cf 5 1 1
Hitchcock, 1b 6 2 3 4 Smith, 3b 3 1
Simek, 2b 6 2 2 2 Barrett, 1b 4 1 0
Klee, dh 4 1 1 1 Lugbauer, c 4 0 0
Monaco, rf 4 0 0 1 Ostrander, rf 4 0 0
Charron, lf 3 0 1 0 McAvoy, dh 4 0 2
Haughie, c 4 2 2 0 Hackett, ss 4 0 0
Quinn, c 1 0 0 0 Menendez, 2b 4 1 0
Dunn, cf 3 1 2 1
Totals 40 13 13 11 Totals 36 4 11 4
Binghamton 240 400 300 – 13
Maine 102 100 000 – 4
E-James; Smith; LOB-Binghamton 9, Maine 7; 2B-Simek, Klee; Cather, Menendez; HR-Hitchcock; DP-Binghamton 1; S-Dunn; McGraw; SB-Smith
Binghamton IP H R ER BB SO
Diamond (W, 5-3) 9 11 4 4 1 9
Maine IP H R ER BB SO
Balsinde (L, 3-5) 2 7 6 5 0 1
Boike 1 1/3 2 4 4 4 0
Powers 3 1 3 3 2 1
Forrest 2 2/3 3 0 0 0 1
HBP-Dunn (by Powers), Smucker (by Powers); WP-Balsinde, Boike, Powers; PB-Lugbauer; T-2:30