ORONO, Maine — New Jersey Institute of Technology junior catcher Luke Longo had hit three homers coming into Friday’s America East elimination game against the University of Maine.
He walloped a pair of homers as did senior left fielder Julio Marcano as the Highlanders beat UMaine 9-7 at Mahaney Diamond. David Marcano, Julio’s twin brother, also homered.
NJIT, now 26-26, and UMass Lowell, 27-29, meet in an elimination game later Friday and the winner will have to beat Binghamton twice on Saturday to capture the title. Binghamton improved to 2-0 with an 8-5 win over UMass Lowell earlier Friday.
It was a disappointing end to the season for the top-seeded Black Bears, who finished the campaign with five straight losses and wound up 27-22.
The UMaine pitching staff allowed a whopping 49 earned runs over 42 innings in those five losses for a lofty 10.50 earned run average.
“From a baseball standpoint, we weren’t good enough on the mound,” said UMaine head coach Nick Derba. “And pitching is the most important thing in baseball. We struggled all year to make the timely pitch.”
Derba brought No. 3 starting pitcher Brett Erwin into the game in the seventh inning with the game tied 7-7 and Longo launched a two-out homer to left to break the tie. It was the 10th homer allowed by Erwin this season.
Julio Marcano added a solo shot off Erwin in the ninth for an insurance run, his eighth of the season and the 29th of his career, tying him with teammate Paul Franzoni for the school’s all-time homer record.
The Highlanders wasted little time teeing off on UMaine freshman lefty Caleb Leys, who lasted just 11 hitters and surrendered five hits and four earned runs while also walking three.
NJIT’s first three hitters of the game singled and Julio Marcano picked up the RBI with his base hit.
Longo opened the second inning with his fourth homer of the season and a walk and a strikeout later, David Marcano, belted his eighth homer to make it 4-0 as he went the opposite way to right center.
UMaine got two back in the bottom of the second on Jeremiah Jenkins’ long double to center, Connor Goodman’s triple into the left field corner and Jake Marquez’s single to right.
UMaine took the lead with three runs in the fifth on a Joe Bramanti double, a hit batsman, a run-scoring double by Goodman and Turenne’s two-run double as he hooked an 0-1 pitch down the right field line.
Noah Lewis had been stout in relief, hurling four innings of shutout ball until the sixth.
But the Highlanders reached him for three runs to retake the lead.
A single and a sacrifice put a runner on second and Albert Choi drove in the tying run with a two-out ground ball single to center.
Julio Marcano then became the school’s all-time leader in hits with a two-run homer off the foul pole in left. It was his 232nd career hit.
He expanded that to 233 with his ninth-inning blast.
His brother David has 74 hits this season and that is the school’s single-season record.
UMaine tied it in the bottom of the sixth in strange fashion.
Jordan Schulefand singled to open the inning and UMaine then used two walks and two bases-loaded hit batsmen off lefty reliever Jake Rappaport to tie it.
Third baseman Jared Donnelly prevented further damage by making a tremendous over-the-shoulder catch on Marquez’s shallow fly into left.
“Jared is one of the best defensive players around,” Rappaport said. “Anything that goes his way, I’m pretty confident he’s going to make the play.”
Rappaport recovered from his shaky sixth inning to pitch scoreless ball the rest of the way and pick up the win.
“He is as tough as they come and you want your toughest guy out there in that situation,” said NJIT coach Robbie McClellan.
Pivotal play: Longo’s homer in the seventh gave NJIT the lead for good and stunted the momentum gained by UMaine with its two-run rally in the sixth that had tied it.
“I was looking for a fastball and I was going to adjust from there. If I had to foul off an outside pitch, so be it. But he threw me a heater (fastball) inside and I went with it,” said Longo, whose two-homer game was his second of the season.
Longo was one of five Highlanders with two or more hits. Julio Marcano had three hits including his two homers; David Marcano, Choi, Kevin Putsky and Longo had two apiece.
Turenne had a double and two singles for UMaine and drove in two runs. Goodman had a triple and double and knocked in three.
But the top five hitters in the Maine lineup, Schulefand, Mejia, Quinn McDaniel, Bramanti and Scout Knotts went a combined 3-for-19 with one extra-base hit.
UMaine left 12 runners on base after standing 13 in Thursday’s 9-7 loss to UMass Lowell.
Big takeaway: An emotional Derba said he was “very proud” of what his team accomplished this season and what they did for him. The Black Bears went 21-9 in league play during the regular season to share the regular season title with Stony Brook.
“This program has been resurrected,” Derba said. “The metric is to win the America East [tournament] championship but I see this as the start of something. They left this a better place than it was when they came here.”
The bottom line is UMaine’s pitching was suspect from day one and it imploded at the end.
UMaine finished with a team batting average of .290 and the Black Bears averaged 7.2 runs per game but you aren’t going to win any championships with a team earned-run average of 6.31.