ORONO — It was a typical University of Maine-UMass Lowell baseball game on the second day of the America East Tournament at Mahaney Diamond in Orono on Thursday.
Another seesaw affair with plenty of drama and when the dust had settled, UMass Lowell emerged with a wild 9-7 win.
It would eventually boil down to a battle of the bullpens since neither starting pitcher was effective. UMaine’s Trevor LaBonte and UMass Lowell’s Ryan Towle didn’t make it beyond the fifth inning. LaBonte was lifted with no outs in the fifth and Towle came out with two outs in the fourth.
But the River Hawks received 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball from relievers Zach Fortuna, Matt Draper, Sal Fusco, Michael Quigley and Henry Funaro to earn the win. The five relievers limited the Black Bears to a 1-for-8 showing with runners in scoring position.
“These guys have been resilient all year,” said UMass Lowell coach Ken Harring. “They don’t have the prettiest innings but they have the stuff (to get out of jams), especially Fusco and Quigley.”
UMass Lowell is now 2-0 in the tournament and 27-28 overall while UMaine is 0-1 and 27-21 and the loser of four in a row. After UMaine’s relievers allowed three earned runs in five innings, Black Bear pitchers have allowed 40 earned runs in 33 innings during a four-game skid.
It was the 16th time in the last 28 meetings between the two that the game was decided by two runs or less. They have split the 28 games.
The winning side was without its top hitter in freshman second team All-League choice Jacob Humphrey from Standish (.337 average, 45 stolen bases), third-leading home run hitter Cedric Rose (.253, 8 homers, 40 runs batted in) and No. 2 starting pitcher and all-conference second team pick L.J. Keevan (5-4, 4.26 earned run average). All were out due to COVID-19 protocols.
The River Hawks erased a pair of three-run deficits thanks to a five-run fifth-inning rally that gave them the lead for good.
Trailing 6-3 entering the fifth, Robert Gallagher doubled to open the inning and Fritz Genther delivered him with a single. Gerry Siracusa then hit a ball off the end of the bat that took a crazy spin to UMaine first baseman Joe Bramanti’s right and rolled into right field.
Tyler Nielsen came on in relief and promptly hit Brandon Fish with his first pitch to load the bases. Ryan Proto then went the opposite way and tripled down the right field line to clear the bases and he eventually scored on Frank Wayman’s sharp single to right.
Wayman, who was starting at first base in place of Rose, doubled home an important ninth-inning insurance run with two outs off Matt Pushard.
UMaine had bases loaded and no outs in the sixth and the bases loaded with one out in the seventh but could only push across one run.
Genther’s opposite-field homer to right center, his 10th of the season, staked UMass Lowell to a 1-0 lead in the first inning but Bramanti tied it up with a towering shot to left in the second.
Bramanti’s league-leading 16th homer triggered a four-run rally.
An infield error, a walk and a sacrifice and another walk loaded the bases for Jake Marquez, who sharply grounded a two-run double down the third base line. He eventually scored on Jordan Schulefand’s sacrifice fly.
UMass Lowell scored two in the top of the third after the first two hitters were retired as Gallagher walked and Genther, Siracusa and Fish followed with singles.
Bramanti’s mammoth homer in the bottom of the third and Quinn McDaniel’s clutch two-out run-scoring double in the fourth extended the lead to 6-3.
Wayman and Siracusa all had three hits for UML. Proto had two. McDaniel and Marquez had three hits each for UMaine and Bramanti had his two homers.
Pivotal plays: UMass Lowell reliever Matt Draper induced Bramanti to ground into a double play with no outs and the bases loaded in the sixth and Sal Fusco induced Schuefand to pop up to second on a 2–0 pitch with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh. Each reliever then retired the last hitter to get out of the jam.
“I was trying to hit it in the air but I hit it hard on the ground. We have to score more than one run there,” Bramanti said.
UMaine head coach Nick Derba said having All-America East first teamers Bramanti and Schulefand up with the bases loaded was just what he wanted to see.
“We gave ourselves plenty of chances to score more runs and win the game but we weren’t able to push the runs through,” said Derba, whose team stranded 13 baserunners. “UMass Lowell executed a little better than we did.”
Takeaway: UMass Lowell showed tremendous grit while being shorthanded. They stayed within striking distance and were able to string together hits at the opportune times to come from behind. UMaine’s hitters didn’t hit as well in critical situations.
UMaine’s lack of a true No. 1 starting pitcher has left them in a big hole, needing to win four games in two days to win the tournament.
What is next: UMass Lowell will play the winner of Thursday’s Binghamton-NJIT game on Friday at 11 a.m. and UMaine will play the loser of Thursday’s 6 p.m game between the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the loser of the Binghamton-NJIT game at 2:30 p.m. with another game to follow if the Black Bears win.