Sophomore lefty Caleb Leys tossed eight innings of four-hit, one-run ball, and sophomore first baseman Jeremiah Jenkins’ two-run homer in the sixth inning broke a tie as UMaine beat the University of Maryland Baltimore County 3-1 in the America East Conference playoffs on Friday.
The victory in Vestal, New York, sends the 31-19 Black Bears into Saturday’s championship round, where they will face defending champ and host school Binghamton, which ousted UMBC 7-1 on Friday night.
The teams will square off at 1 p.m. If the Black Bears win, they would win the conference and go to their first NCAA Tournament since 2011. If Binghamton wins, a championship game would follow right afterward between the same two teams.
Third seed Binghamton is 29-22 and 3-1 in the tournament. Second seed UMBC finished up at 30-27 and 1-2, respectively. UMBC had beaten Binghamton 7-3 on Thursday and Binghamton stayed alive with a 10-5 win over UMass Lowell later Thursday.
UMaine is 2-0 in the tourney. The Black Bears went 2-1 in a three-game series at Binghamton in April, winning a pair of 5-4 contests before losing the finale 18-17.
On Friday, Leys struck out eight and walked two over his masterful eight-inning stint, which was his longest of the season. His previous longest outing was six innings.
The Middletown, R.I. native and 2022 America East All-Rookie team pitcher surrendered a solo homer to junior second baseman Anthony Swenda in the third inning and the other three hits off him were all singles. He threw 114 pitches while improving his record to 5-0.
Leys retired the side in order in five of his eight innings and the Retrievers stranded only three runners on base. Graduate student Justin Baeyens came on in the ninth for UMaine and earned his eighth save of the season by retiring all three hitters he faced.
Swenda’s 10th homer of the season and second in as many games staked the Retrievers to a 1-0 lead. But the Black Bears tied it in the bottom of the third when Jake Marquez hit a ground rule double and eventually scored on Quinn McDaniel’s sacrifice fly.
Jenkins, the left-handed slugger and America East Player of the Year, broke the tie when he belted his 19th homer of the season to right center following a walk to McDaniel. He homered off UMBC sophomore lefty and losing pitcher Jayden Shertel. The homer gave Jenkins his 73rd and 74th runs batted in on the season.
Shertel, who had given up 12 earned runs in 9 1/3 innings in his two regular season starts against UMaine, went 5 1/3 innings and gave up five hits and three runs, two earned, while striking out three and walking three. He is now 5-5.
UMaine was held to six hits by Shertel, Ben Craig and Connor Kelly.
Colin Plante had a double and a single for the Black Bears. Marquez and Jake Rainess each had a double and McDaniel drew two walks, scored a run and drove one in.
Swenda had a single to go with his homer for UMBC. Christian Easley and Tony Krueger had singles.