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America East Conference play begins Friday for the University of Maine baseball team, which is hoping to build off its 2-0-1 weekend against New York Tech and New Jersey Tech.
Coach Steve Trimper’s 9-13-1 Black Bears continued their efficient pitching and defense while also demonstrating their depth. UMaine bounced back from Friday’s mud-induced 0-0 tie against New York Tech by pummeling New Jersey Tech on Saturday and Sunday.
The Bears will try to stay sharp by taking on Division III Husson College today at 4 p.m. at the Winkin Complex in Bangor, then play host to league foe Albany on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Mahaney Diamond in Orono – field conditions permitting.
Mansfield Stadium in Bangor has been made available as a backup site for the series.
The most important aspect of the Bears’ wins over New Jersey Tech was their offensive production. UMaine scored 34 runs on 35 hits in the two games – albeit against a low-level Division I program – receiving contributions from players up and down the lineup.
“We struggled a little bit in the beginning of the season, but I think we definitely came through in the clutch when we really needed it, in time for conference play,” said sophomore shortstop Tony Patane.
“We did struggle for a while there and there was a little bit of inconsistency throughout our whole lineup,” said Trimper, who praised his team for continuing to work hard in practice on their hitting. “It was nice to see everybody hit.”
The Bears demonstrated their depth and versatility. Eleven different players had hits against New Jersey Tech, with redshirt freshman Matt Howard having a big game Sunday.
Howard, making only his fourth start of the season – this time as the designated hitter – knocked in four runs with two home runs. He hit one to left field and the other to right.
“It was great to see him do that,” said senior Mark Ostrander. “It just shows everyone else the kids that aren’t playing can play.”
Ostrander, one of nine players (and six righthanded batters) who have seen time in the outfield this season for UMaine, also got hot. He went 6-for-10, including two doubles, a triple and a homer, with four RBIs and five runs scored.
“Mark Ostrander and Matt Howard got in their and got some hits,” Trimper said. “They’re guys that we know have the tools and capability of doing it, they’ve just got to start applying it a little bit more.”
UMaine’s Hackett out for season
Brian Hackett of the UMaine baseball team is expected to miss the remainder of the season after breaking his left foot.
The junior from Bangor injured himself last week while playing basketball.
“I was just shooting around,” Hackett explained. “I jumped up, got the ball, [and] came down on my own foot.”
Hackett was scheduled to have surgery on the foot Wednesday.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound infielder had appeared in only three games this season for the Bears, going hitless in three at-bats.
Black Bears ‘throwing the leather’
Steady defense has been another recent trademark of this UMaine ballclub.
The Bears have gone four consecutive games without committing an error and have made only two in their last nine contests. UMaine, which has made 31 errors in 23 games, owns a .961 fielding percentage, which is tied for first among America East teams.
During the last 11 games, dating back to March 12 at Miami, UMaine has committed only five miscues.
“We did a lot of drills over the winter and we harped a lot on throwing errors and cutting them down. I think it has paid off,” Trimper said.
The Bears made 26 errors in their first 12 games.
One area of noticeable defensive improvement has been the left side of the infield, where third baseman Jarrett Lukas of Old Town and Patane have combined for only eight errors.
UMaine also has been fortunate to play on some more predictable fields at Miami and Wagner, in addition to artificial turf at Navy and Husson.
“We’ve played on good surfaces,” Trimper said. “They’re true [in terms of rolls and bounces] baseball fields, which helps you play true baseball and it gives you a lot more confidence.”
Trimper admits he has concerns about the conditions at Mahaney Diamond, which is only now starting to dry out in what is expected to be its final season with natural grass.