The University of Maine baseball team’s first trip to the NCAA Division I Regionals since 2011 turned out to be short-lived.
After getting shelled by host Miami 9-1 in its first game at the Coral Gables Regional in Florida on Friday night, the University of Louisiana (Lafayette) drubbed the Black Bears 19-10 on Saturday afternoon to eliminate them from the four-team double-elimination tournament.
It is the most runs allowed by the Black Bears since a 21-6 loss at Louisiana State University on Feb. 20, 2022.
America East regular season and tournament champion UMaine concluded a 32-21 campaign while Louisiana, 41-23, advanced to an elimination game on Sunday where it was eliminated by Miami 8-5.
For the second straight game, UMaine’s starting pitcher was tagged for seven runs as the Ragin’ Cajuns chased sophomore lefty Caleb Leys after he lasted just four innings. He allowed five hits along with the seven earned runs and had three walks and a hit batter along with three strikeouts.
Colin Fitzgerald pitched only 1 ⅓ innings on Friday night against Miami before being replaced by Noah Lewis.
Leys, who had thrown eight innings of four-hit, one-run baseball in UMaine’s 3-1 win over the University of Maryland Baltimore County in the America East tournament last weekend, was touched up for four second-inning runs and three more in the fourth.
Heath Hood’s leadoff bunt single triggered the second-inning uprising and he moved to second on a wild pitch.
One out later, he scored on a Julian Brock base hit.
John Taylor walked and Caleb Stelly singled home Brock. C.J. Willis’ fielder’s choice delivered Taylor and Max Marusak drove in Stelly with a base hit.
UMaine pulled one back in the third when Jake Marquez reached on a bunt single and eventually scored on Jake Rainess’ base hit.
But the Ragin’ Cajuns expanded the lead to 7-1 with three in the fourth inning on a hit batter, a walk and Kyle DeBarge’s three-run homer to left, his seventh of the season.
Miami native Jake Marquez walloped a two-run homer in the fifth, his second of the year, to slice the lead to 7-3 but the Ragin’ Cajuns responded with three in the bottom of the fifth as Brock singled in a run off reliever Gianni Gambardella before Taylor stroked a two-run double.
Freshman catcher Dean O’Neill, playing in place of the ailing Ryan Turenne (illness), drilled his first career homer, a two-run shot, in the top of the sixth to pull UMaine within 10-5. It was his first of two that afternoon.
But Louisiana put the game away with a nine-run seventh-inning rally that featured a three-run homer by Carson Roccaforte, his eighth of the year, and a two-run shot by Conor Higgs, his seventh. Louisiana had eight hits in the inning and sent 12 men to the plate.
The Black Bears again tried to climb back into the game with a five-run rally in the eighth featuring a three-run homer by O’Neill and Jeremiah Jenkins’ 21st homer, a solo shot.
But that was as close as they were to get.
Freshman Gambardella, who pitched eight innings of three-hit shutout baseball in the America East title-clinching 6-1 win over Binghamton last weekend, was roughed up to the tune of eight runs (seven earned) and eight hits in two innings of work.
Luc Lavigueur allowed four hits and four runs in one-third of an inning before Colton Carson got the final five outs without giving up a hit or a run.
UMaine head coach Nick Derba said “we may be a very good offensive team in our conference but the reality is you have to go out and not allow teams of this caliber to score more than five or six runs [if you’re going to win]. We didn’t get the pitching in order to do that.
“It was a good season for us. It was a building block. Our returners had the opportunity to see what it takes to be a national contender. We took a step in the right direction, without a doubt,” Derba said.
“We knew they could hit so we felt we had to go out and score a bunch of runs,” Louisiana’s DeBarge said.
DeBarge and Brock each had three hits and three RBIs for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Hood, Higgs, Taylor and Stelly had a pair of hits apiece as Louisiana pounded out 17 hits. Brock and Taylor each had a double.
O’Neill, Marquez and Rainess each had three hits in UMaine’s 14-hit attack. O’Neill had five RBIs to give him 15 in just 17 games this season. Matt McElwain and Nick White had a pair of hits apiece. Marquez and McElwain had a double among their hits, and Marquez had his homer.
Carson Fluno picked up the win with seven innings of 10-hit, five-run ball for Louisiana. He struck out three and walked one.
Marquez said he said the team “didn’t stop fighting” and represented the state of Maine well.
“I’m proud of the boys. Hopefully, we can keep it going [next season],” Marquez said.
O’Neill said although the result wasn’t what they wanted, getting to play in a regional as a freshman was something special.
“I mean a year ago today, I was sitting on my couch watching a regional on TV thinking ‘Man, this is the coolest thing ever,” O’Neill said.
“I’m going to a program where I’m going to get the opportunity to play in a regional. I did today and it was really, really cool,” he added.