In a battle of America East Conference rivals, the University of Maine Black Bears welcomed the University of Massachusetts Lowell Riverhawks to the Mahaney Diamond for a three-game weekend set. Heading into the matchup, the Black Bears held the first spot in the conference standings, managing to lead the America East in batting average, home runs, doubles, RBIs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage in the process.
The Black Bears had a 12-3 record in the conference while managing a respectable 16-14 overall record coming into the series. In addition, head coach Nick Derba’s team was able to enter the weekend on a high, riding a six-game win streak on the back of some fantastic individual performances.
The fifth-year pitcher Trevor LaBonte dealt for nearly five no-hit innings before UMass Lowell’s first-year utilityman Alex Luccini broke up his chance at a no-hitter with a single into shallow center.
First-year Riverhawk pitcher LJ Keevan also put together a solid performance of his own, until fifth-year Black Bear first baseman Joe Bramanti’s RBI double in the fourth inning gave the Black Bears a 1-0 lead.
Heading into the sixth, LaBonte was in charge of preserving the Black Bears’ lead, though that task soon proved to be more difficult than expected. While he was able to strike out the first batter of the inning, fourth-year Riverhawk outfielder Gerry Siracusa snuck his way on base by way of a perfectly placed grounder through the hole on the left side of the infield. A long, deep drive down the right line from Lowell’s first-year third-baseman Brandon Fish caused trouble in the corner for fifth-year right-fielder Jordan Schulefand, with Fish making it all the way to third and Siracusa reaching home to tie the score at one.
The Riverhawks did not stop there though, tacking on another run when third-year first baseman Cedric Rose was able to put a ball in between second-year Jake Marquez and second-year Quinn McDaniel at shortstop and second baseman. The hit earned Rose an RBI as Fish came home, and granted the Riverhawks their first lead all day. Luckily, LaBonte managed to turn a double play on the following at-bat, but the damage was done with the opposing side up 2-1 heading into the stretch.
First-year relief pitcher Colin Fitzgerald came into the fray for the Black Bears to start the seventh, holding down the fort until the ninth inning. With one out, third-year Riverhawk catcher Ryan Proto nailed a triple down the right field line just as Fish had a few innings prior. The reigning America East player of the week, second-year Riverhawk shortstop Fritz Genther, was up to bat and things did not look promising. Genther and Proto executed a perfect squeeze play, with Proto stealing home as Genther bunted and was subsequently thrown out. While Fitzgerald walked the next batter, fourth-year Black Bear catcher Ryan Turenne was able to gun down the runner as he attempted to steal second, ending the inning.
Having only three outs to work with is a difficult task on its own, but after a Joe Bramanti’s fly-out and a Scout Knotts groundout, first-year Black Bear designated hitter Jeremiah Jenkins stepped into the batter’s box and delivered a towering shot to centerfield. The ball bounced in front of the diving Riverhawk outfielder before bouncing to the wall while Jenkins sprinted his way to a triple. Turenne was next to bat and managed to make contact as he lined a ball right at first base.
The Lowell first-baseman leaped up to snatch the drive but had the ball fall out of his glove, and with nobody covering first a dead sprint between Turenne and the Riverhawk pitcher took place before Turenne slid in safely to first, tying the game at three and sending the contest to extra innings.
“I hit it pretty hard off the bat there, so I knew there was a chance,” Turenne said after the game. “Once I saw the ball hit the ground and pop out I knew I had to get to first base.”
Fitzgerald remained in the game on the mound and pitched the team through a daring bases-loaded situation in the top of the eleventh. With Lowell’s fifth-year pitcher Henry Funaro entering the game and walking the bases loaded, the stage was then set perfectly for the man of the hour, Turenne. The Black Bear catcher delivered a perfect RBI single to win the game 4-3 for his side.
“I wanted to do whatever I could to give my team a chance to win,” Turenne said post-game.
When asked about his pitching staff’s performance, head coach Derba praised the hard-working nature of his group.
“This is what good teams do, we needed them to step up and shut down teams, and today was a perfect example,” Derba said. “These guys like to play, and that’s the best way to put it, you know? Until the game’s over, we’re not out of it.”
Derba’s side looked to bring that very same intensity to the field the next day. First-year pitcher Caleb Leys took to the mound, doing his best to imitate LaBonte’s performance as he managed to toss six innings of no-hit baseball before his own bid was broken up by a Riverhawk batter.
McDaniel was responsible for opening the scoring for the Black Bears, with his sacrifice fly bringing home third-year third-baseman Connor Goodman just before Bramanti’s three-run dinger in the third inning. Jenkins hit a homer of his own, bringing home fourth-year outfielder Knotts along with him to extend UMaine’s lead to 6-0 after only a third of the contest. The blast was enough for Lowell as they pulled their starter, fifth-year Ryan Towle after just three innings of work.
Knotts found home on an errant throw to first base in the fifth, pushing the lead to 7-0 behind Leys’ phenomenal pitching. After six innings of solid work, UMaine brought in second-year pitcher Noah Lewis into the game, but defensive errors from the Black Bears gave the Riverhawks two easy runs before an RBI-single and a two-RBI-single from the heart of the Lowell order shortened the lead to only 7-5. Lewis was subsequently pulled and replaced by fifth-year closer Matt Pushard.
Pushard put together two innings of solid work to pair with his five strikeouts, closing out the game emphatically for the Black Bears en route to an 8-5 victory, extending the team’s winning streak to eight.
On Sunday the Black Bears were down 6-3 going into the eighth inning but rallied back to win 7-6 completing the series sweep. The win was secured in the bottom of the ninth on a rare walk-off walk. UMaine’s overall record is now at 19-14 and they still remain at the top of the America East Conference.
The Black Bears will play a mid-week road game at Merrimack College before returning to the Mahaney Diamond again next weekend as they welcome the University of Hartford Hawks to Orono for a three-game series.