UMass Lowell’s Gerry Siracusa dives safely back to first base under the tag of UMaine’s Joe Bramanti during a pickoff attempt during their America East tournament game at the University of Maine’s Mahaney Diamond on Thursday. UMass Lowell won the game 9-7. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The University of Maine’s baseball team was having a memorable spring until it dropped its last five games.

The late-season collapse will certainly be remembered but it should also be pointed out that there were plenty of bright spots, including a 14-game winning streak and the shared conference regular season championship with departing Stony Brook.

So head coach Nick Derba has something to build on.

Derba went into the season knowing he couldn’t replace first team All-American right hander Nick Sinacola at the top of the rotation. And he also had to replace former Hampden Academy standout Alex McKenney, who developed into a solid No. 2 starter.

Sinacola and McKenney could have returned but Sinacola was drafted in the seventh round by the San Francisco Giants and McKenney signed a free agent deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

So the three-man starting rotation for their three-game America East series throughout the season were all newcomers: University of Maryland transfer Trevor LaBonte from York, freshman lefty Caleb Leys and University of California Davis transfer Brett Erwin.

LaBonte and Erwin were graduate students.

And up until the last regular season series at Hartford and the America East Tournament, they had done their jobs admirably.

They kept the Black Bears in games and gave their teammates a chance to win the vast majority of the time and the Black Bear hitters came through, averaging 8.1 runs and 10.8 hits per conference game.

They went 27-22 overall and  21-9 in the conference to share the regular season championship with Stony Brook.

But all three ran out of gas at the end of the season as UMaine was swept by Hartford then dropped its two tournament games on its Mahaney Diamond by 9-7 scores to UMass Lowell and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

In addition, the Black Bear hitters stranded 25 baserunners in the two tournament games.

In their last two appearances, LaBonte allowed 12 earned runs and 14 hits in 7 ⅓ innings, Leys gave up 14 hits and 12 earned runs in 5 ⅔ innings and Erwin was touched up for seven hits and six earned runs in 7 ⅔ innings.

Part of their struggles could certainly be attributed to arm fatigue.

First team All-America East righthander LaBonte had thrown a total of just four innings combined in 2020 and 2021 at Maryland after throwing 64 ⅔ innings in 2019. He threw a team-high 73 ⅓ this season. Erwin threw 71 ⅔ innings after throwing a combined total of 79 ⅔ in ‘20 and ‘21 and All-Rookie team pick Leys was pitching at the college level for the first time.

Leys had a 2.25 ERA in his five appearances prior to his final two.

In addition, the bullpen was shaky and inconsistent from day one.

UMaine finished the season with a 6.31 earned-run average which isn’t conducive to post-season success.

“We didn’t pitch well enough. I need to bring in better arms,” Derba said.

The 2022 America East Coach of the Year has five incoming freshman pitchers in Old Town’s Gabe Gifford and Freeport High’s Blaine Cockburn, Gianni Gambardella from Connecticut, Luc Lavigueur from Rhode Island and Tylere Hicks from New Hampshire.

Derba indicated he also intends to bring in up to five transfer pitchers.

Leys finished the season with a 3-3 record and a 4.64 ERA. He should be better next season and certainly has the inside track to be one of the top three starters.

The only other definite returnees who threw more than 15 innings this season were relievers Colton Carson from Oxford Hills (0-0, 7.56 earned-run average, 16 ⅔ innings), Noah Lewis from South Portland (3-2, 8.62, 47 innings) and Colin Fitzgerald (2-2, 9.09, 34 ⅔ innings ).They all showed promise but also had a bunch of forgettable outings.

Carson and Lewis were sophomores and Fitzgerald was a freshman.

Leif Bigelow (2-0, 4.22, 32 innings) may or may not return, according to Derba.

In addition to LaBonte, who wound up 5-4 with a 5.15 ERA, and Erwin (2-6, 4.52), UMaine will also have to replace All-America East second team closer Matt Pushard from Brewer (3-1, 9 saves, 6.00 ERA) and All-AE first teamers in first baseman Joe Bramanti, who hit .277 and led the league in homers (17) and runs batted in (64) and right fielder-pitcher Jordan Schulefand, who led the team in hitting at .350 and in stolen bases with 25.

Left fielder Scout Knotts (.288-10 homers-34 RBI) will also depart.

But a talented cast of returnees includes All-AE first team second baseman Quinn McDaniel from Eliot (.330-10-46, 22 stolen bases), shortstop Jake Marquez (.300-2-23), center fielder Jeff Mejia (.297-1-22), All-AE second team and All-Rookie Team designated hitter-first baseman Jeremiah Jenkins (.284-7-27);  third basemen Connor Goodman (.323-1-24) and Jake Rainess (.319-2-10) and catcher Ryan Turenne (.207-2-20).

Rainess played in only 19 games because he suffered a season-ending broken finger.

Rhode Island infielders T.J. Gormley and Christian Almagno will be incoming freshmen who can hit according to Derba.

UMaine hit a robust .290 in its 49 games.

“We will be better next year,” said Derba, who just finished his fifth season as the head coach. “We are going in the right direction. I am re-energized and the program is re-energized. The next three to five years are going to be better than the last three years.”