The University of Maine had visions of hosting the America East Baseball Championship this spring.
Instead, the Black Bears will again be packing their bags for Long Island, as Stony Brook University is likely to earn the No. 1 seed and the right to play the tournament at Joe Nathan Field.
Coach Steve Trimper’s ballclub finds itself in a bit of a funk heading into the last two weekends of league play. UMaine has lost seven of its last nine games with a combination of spotty offense and inconsistent pitching.
All is not lost.
The pressure is now off the Bears, who should go into postseason as either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed. This group still has the potential to successfully defend its America East title and return to an NCAA regional.
UMaine has enough good hitters in the lineup to produce more runs. It is going to require an unselfish approach that incorporates patience and the willingness to settle for an opposite-field single rather than trying to hit a home run.
The Bears need to be able to bunt a runner over or steal a base when needed and then find a way to get the run in with a clutch one- or two-out hit.
This UMaine pitching staff has enough experience and talent to win in the postseason, but can’t afford to continue making opponents’ jobs easier.
A couple of the pitchers can overpower batters at times, but all must locate pitches down and on the corners. With a dependable defense behind them, ground balls are usually going to be outs and double plays can erase the effects of an early-inning single.
While the Bears’ bullpen is a bit limited, they simply can’t issue walks and hit batters and expect to escape unscathed.
This team also features a winning personality. The players are good competitors, but they get along well and know how to have fun. Finding the right balance in that regard will be key in handling postseason pressure.
If they work together and execute the little things, without giving away at-bats and outs, the Bears could be dangerous.
Ultimately, UMaine has to win three straight games over a three-day span later this month. They simply need to put all the aspects of their game together at the right time.