Newcomers looking to pitch in for Black Bears Development of staff will be pivotal to success

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ORONO – Offense hasn’t been a problem in recent years for the University of Maine baseball team. What the Black Bears lacked last season was pitching depth. As a result, the emphasis for third-year coach Steve Trimper’s has been on shoring up UMaine’s pitching and…
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ORONO – Offense hasn’t been a problem in recent years for the University of Maine baseball team.

What the Black Bears lacked last season was pitching depth. As a result, the emphasis for third-year coach Steve Trimper’s has been on shoring up UMaine’s pitching and defense.

The Bears go into Saturday’s opener at Delaware State with few proven pitchers. The development of the staff will determine how far this team goes.

“We’ve done it for two years on hitting,” Trimper said. “We were lacking a little bit of depth on that [pitching] side of things.”

UMaine’s staff has undergone an overhaul after the departure of graduate Greg Norton and draft pick Brad Hertzler, who combined for 11 wins. Four others, including Mike Powers, have left UMaine.

That leaves junior righthander Alejandro Balsinde (3-5, 4.40 earned run average), sophomore closer Ryan Forrest (3-2, 5.88), senior lefty Nolan Boike (1-1, 8.07) and senior Will Carroll of Boothbay as the only veteran pitchers.

There are 10 new faces on the staff, led by freshman lefty Kevin Scanlan and sophomore transfer righty Joe Miller. Other possible starters are senior righty Joel Thorney, and freshman Matt Jebb.

“Right now you don’t know who’s starting, where you’re going to play,” Carroll said. “Florida and UNLV, you get to earn your spot pretty much during those two weeks.”

There are plenty more potential contributors in freshmen Jonathan Balentina, Kyle Benoit, Jim Cox of Bangor and Josh Jillson of Wales, along with sophomore Justin Latta.

“I think we need 10 quality pitchers. I think we have 10 quality arms right now,” Trimper said of the staff’s lack of polish and college experience.

UMaine returns seven regulars, including senior first baseman/designated hitter Curt Smith, junior center fielder Billy Cather, sophomore catcher Myckie Lugbauer, junior infielder Brian Hackett of Bangor, junior second baseman Danny Menendez, senior outfielder Mark Ostrander and sophomore outfielders Kevin Jackson and Tavis Hasenfus of Winthrop.

UMaine, picked to finish third in the AE preseason poll, went 22-31 last season. The Bears’ veterans hope a solid nucleus, combined with an influx of new players, will help them get back on top.

“It’s a very raw group. We’re definitely going to need a month or so to transform the raw talent into skill, the talent into winning,” Ostrander said.

Smith is the Bears’ top returning hitter (.351, 8 home runs, 48 runs batted in, 9 stolen bases in 2007). He moves from the left side of the infield into a role as a first baseman, outfielder and DH.

Cather (.321, 4 HR, 26 RBI, 17 SB) will use his speed as the leadoff hitter. Lugbauer, the AE Rookie of the Year after hitting .301 (5 HR, 27 RBI, .995 fielding pct.), will team up at catcher with sophomore Joe Mercurio, a transfer from Illinois, and also will see time at first base.

The steady Hackett (.296, 18 RBI) gives UMaine versatility at third base and shortstop, while Menendez (.276, 2 HR, 255 RBI) is a third-year starter. Kevin McAvoy of Brewer (.271, 4 HR, 30 RBI) adds experience and offensive pop in the outfield along with Jackson (.318, 15 RBI).

Ostrander (.232, 1 HR, 14 RBI) provides leadership and plenty of tools in the outfield, where Hasenfus (.254, 1 HR, 10 RBI) saw some time a year ago.

“I think offensively we’re a good team,” Trimper said. “We’ve got speed in the right places, we run the bases well and we’ve got some guys that can really drive it.”

The Bears should be improved defensively. It starts behind the plate with Lugbauer and Mercurio.

“Myckie is a big, strong hitter and has a great arm,” Trimper said. “Mercurio is a top-notch defensive guy.”

Menendez teams up with sophomore shortstop Tony Patane, a junior college product.

“Tony is a slick-fielding kid that really knows the game,” Trimper said.

And Cather covers a lot of ground in center field.

Freshman Jarrett Lukas of Old Town is likely to push Menendez at second or get some swings as the DH.

With Smith and Lugbauer expected to share time at first, that leaves newcomer Kevin Mager and Hackett at third.

The outfield corps is even deeper with the return of senior Bobby Brown (.222, 2 HR, 4 RBI) and redshirt freshmen Joey Martin of Portland and Matt Howard.

“We’ve got all the tools we need, it’s just putting it together,” said Smith, UMaine’s captain.

pwarner@bangordailynews.net

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2008 BLACK BEARS SCHEDULE

February

23 – at Delaware State, 2:30 p.m.

24 – at Delaware State (2), noon

25 – at Delaware State, TBA

29 – at UNLV, 9:30 p.m.

March

1 -at UNLV, 5 p.m.

2 – at UNLV, 4 p.m.

4 -vs. Notre Dame, 2 p.m.

5 – vs. Florida International, 6 p.m.

6 – vs. Air Force, 7 p.m.

8 – vs. Ohio State, 5:15 p.m.

9 – vs. Penn, 3:15 p.m.

12 – at Miami, 7 p.m.

14 – vs. Duquesne, 11 a.m.

15 – at Navy, 2;30 p.m.

16 – vs. Monmouth (N.J.), 11 a.m.

22 – at NYIT (2), noon

23 – at NYIT, 1 p.m.

28 -at Wagner, 3 p.m.

29 -at Wagner (2), 11 a.m.

30 – at Wagner, 1 p.m.

April

4 – NYIT, 4 p.m.

5 – New Jersey Tech, 4 p.m.

6 – New Jersey Tech, 4 p.m.

11 – Albany, 4 p.m.

12 – Albany, (2), 1 p.m.

13 – Albany, 1 p.m.

16 – at Coppin State, 1 p.m.

18 – at UMBC (2), 4 p .m.

19 – at UMBC, 7 p.m.

20 – at UMBC, 1 p.m.

22 -Thomas, 5 p.m.

25 – Stony Brook, 4 p.m.

26 – Stony Brook (2), 1 p.m.

27 – Stony Brook, 1 p.m.

30 -Siena, 4 p.m.

May

2 – Hartford, 4 p.m.

3 – Hartford (2), 1 p.m.

4 – Hartford, 1 p.m.

9 – at Vermont, 3 p.m.

10 – at Vermont (2), 1 p.m.

11 – at Vermont, 1 p.m.

14 – at Siena, 3 p.m.

15 -at Binghamton, 3 p.m.

16 – at Binghamton (2), noon

17 – at Binghamton, noon

22-24 – America East Tournament


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