The University of Maine baseball team finds itself in an unusual and uncomfortable position halfway through the America East Conference season.
Stony Brook departed Sunday having taken three of four games from the Black Bears in Orono, leaving coach Steve Trimper’s ballclub in last place in the conference.
UMaine (16-21-1, 4-8 AE) now faces a challenging final three weeks of the America East schedule as it tries to brush off the early struggles and earn its way into the conference tournament.
“From here on out, we’ve got to claw and scratch and fight every weekend,” Trimper said. “It’s going to come down to three teams for one spot. We’ve got Hartford coming here next weekend and we’ve got to prepare for them.”
Four of the league’s seven teams qualify for the America East Championship, which will be played May 22-24 at the home field of the highest-seeded team that can procure a field with lights.
Taking the simple view, UMaine sits only two games in the “loss” column behind Hartford (14-24) and Vermont (19-17), which are tied for fourth place with 6-6 league records. Those happen to be the Bears’ next two opponents.
“We have Hartford this weekend and we have to take four [games],” said Bears senior captain Curt Smith. “We’re 4-8 right now and being .500 is important for us.”
If UMaine could win three of four in both series, it would be back in the thick of the race heading into the final regular-season series at Binghamton (19-21, 7-5 AE), which is now in second place.
Anything less than that and the Bears likely would not reach the postseason for the first time since 2000.
“It is still a long season. We have a couple weekends ahead of us and our league’s always close, there’s always going to be three or four teams fighting for that last [playoff] spot,” said junior Billy Cather. “Right now we really need to focus on what we want to do with the rest of the season.”
UMaine must pass two of the teams now situated in front of it in the standings. Directly ahead is sixth-place Albany (11-31-1, 6-10 AE), which took three of four from the Bears and thus would have the tiebreaker if they finish tied.
Getting back into contention won’t be an easy task for the Bears, who hit the road for the final eight America East contests, four each at Vermont (May 9-11) and Binghamton (May 15-17).
“It’s definitely doable,” said junior Danny Menendez. “Some games we’re hitting, some games we’re pitching. Once we put it together, we’ll be fine.”
While there is parity in America East this season, UMaine likely will have to win eight of its last 12 games, which would leave it at .500 in league play, to qualify for the postseason.
No team has made the tournament field with a .500 or lower league winning percentage since 2002.
Trimper is hoping he can help the Bears get on a roll without putting too much pressure on them.
“We’re striving for the conference tournament and we’ve got three weeks left to go,” Trimper said. “We’ve just got to keep pushing and teaching them. They’re a talented bunch. I’m trying to alleviate their frustrations, because they want to win, they want to compete.”