There were plenty of highlights for the University of Maine’s baseball team during the 2022 season, including a 14-game winning streak, the most conference wins since 2013 (21), and head coach Nick Derba and seven players being honored by the league.
Derba was the Coach of the Year, while Quinn McDaniel, Jordan Schulefand, Joe Bramanti and Trevor LaBonte were All-America first team picks. Jeremiah Jenkins and Matt Pushard were second team selections, and Jenkins and Caleb Leys were chosen to the All-Rookie.
UMaine went 27-22 overall and 21-9 in the conference and shared the regular season title with now-departed Stony Brook. UMaine hosted the league tournament.
But UMass Lowell and the New Jersey Institute of Technology made it a short tournament for the Black Bears by ousting them with 9-7 wins.
The UMaine pitching staff was touched up for 27 hits and 18 earned runs with nine walks, two hit batsmen and two wild pitches. UMaine’s team ERA wound up 6.31 last season.
This year’s pitching staff has a lofty earned-run average of 9.55 with 88 strikeouts and 93 walks through UMaine’s first 13 non-conference games entering a Wednesday game at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
But Derba feels his pitching staff has good potential even though two of his top three starting pitchers have graduated in LaBonte and Brett Erwin.
And Leys has had his struggles as he is sporting a 10.38 ERA and has allowed 16 hits and 15 walks in 13 innings.
So he has been sent to the bullpen.
“Our pitching staff has talent,” said Derba, who is in his sixth season as the Black Bear head coach. “They just have to throw more strikes.”
Sophomore Colin Fitzgerald and South Portland junior Noah Lewis are two-thirds of the three-man rotation and have pitched well.
Fitzgerald has one loss and a 7.50 ERA spanning 18 innings, including being touched up for five homers and 12 runs in three innings of the opening game of a three-game series at Maryland.
Lewis has a 5.75 ERA over 20.1 innings.
Freshman righty Gianni Gambardella was going to replace Leys in the rotation after posting a 2-1 record and a 4.00 ERA over nine innings, all in relief. In his first start on Saturday against Maryland he gave up nine hits and four earned runs. He got no decision as he left the game tied, and UMaine eventually lost 5-4.
Fitzgerald was 2-2 with a 9.09 ERA a year ago and Lewis was 3-2 with an 8.62 ERA spanning 34 ⅔ and 47 innings, respectively.
Derba hopes to get five or six innings out of his starting pitchers each game and use a variety of relief pitchers just one inning apiece.
The list of relievers includes Leys, who was 3-3 with a 4.64 ERA a year ago, graduate student-transfer Justin Baeyens, Oxford Hills junior Colton Carson, junior Tyler Nielsen, freshman Luc Lavigueur, sophomores Ryan Scott and Sebastian Holt, and Freeport freshman Blailne Cockburn.
“There is a learning curve and they’re working through it,” Derba said. “It will be better in the long run. I’d rather have us go through it now than at the end of the year like we did last season. It was too late. We need to develop these guys. They’re going to have to prove themselves to us.”
Junior lefty Geoff Mosseau, a transfer from St. John’s (New York) where he made 26 appearances in three seasons, has yet to pitch due to bone spurs while Holt, who has made one appearance, has been slowed by an arm strain.
The Black Bears have certainly been hitting the ball and scoring runs.
UMaine is averaging 9.23 hits and 6.46 runs per contest, and is hitting .271 as a team with 17 homers.
“The guys are swinging the bat well,” Derba said.
Junior second baseman McDaniel from Eliot hit .342 through his first 13 games with three homers, five runs batted in, 26 walks, 20 runs scored and nine steals in 12 attempts.
Redshirt junior Jake Rainess, who played in only 19 games last season due to a broken finger, is hitting .302 out of the leadoff spot with four homers, 12 RBI, 17 runs scored and nine steals in nine tries, and Jenkins is hitting .320 with four homers and 14 RBI. Jenkins is playing first this year after being primarily a designated hitter a year ago.
Sophomore Myles Sargent (.316, 6 RBI) has been filling in for the injured Jake Marquez (.333) at third base but will probably move to the outfield when Marquez returns, according to Derba.
Graduate student Dylan McNary (.256-1 homer-5 RBI), a transfer from Villanova, is patrolling center field with graduate student Jeff Mejia (.289, 2 RBI) in left and junior Colin Plante (2-for-21) sharing right field with Matt McElwain (.143-1-4), a graduate student transfer from Butler University.
Senior designated hitter Connor Goodman is hitting .36 and leads the team in runs batted in with 18. He has homered once.
The most problematic position for UMaine has been behind the plate.
“That’s our biggest question mark,” said Derba. “Nobody has played well there, offensively or defensively.”
Senior Ryan Turenne (.154), sophomore Camden MacDonald (.143) and Falmouth senior Colby Emmertz, who has played in just two games due to injury, have seen time behind the plate and Derba may also try freshman Dean O’Neill back there.
Derba said this year’s team is much better, defensively, than last year’s club.
He said the conference is going to be tough.
“It’s the best it’s been in four to five years,” he said.
UMaine will open conference play at the University of Maryland Baltimore County on March 17-19 with a three-game set and the home-opening three-game series will be against UMass Lowell beginning March 31.
The conference tourney will be at Binghamton beginning May 22.