The University of Maine’s baseball team dropped the final game of its three-game America East series against Albany on Sunday morning 10-5, but the Black Bears still won their seventh league series after 4-2 and 7-5 wins on Friday and Saturday at Mahaney Diamond.
UMaine, which has already locked up the top seed for the America East tournament on May 25-28, is now 21-6 in the conference and 26-17 overall. UMaine has dropped only two series, going 1-2 in both.
The Black Bears are now 14-2 in conference games decided by two runs or less. Albany is 10-17 in the conference and 21-23 overall and inched closer to clinching a spot in the tournament, which will be hosted by UMaine and will be a six-team, double-elimination affair.
“We didn’t hit this weekend and we didn’t play great defense, either, but at the end of the day, we won a series,” said UMaine head coach Nick Derba.
One of the primary reasons it did was its starting pitching.
UMaine graduate student pitcher Trevor LaBonte of York had one of his best outings as he went seven innings and allowed just four hits and one run with four walks and four strikeouts to pick up the Friday win.
On Saturday, freshman lefty Caleb Leys threw five innings of six-hit, one-run ball with six strikeouts and three walks. He has now posted a 2.14 earned-run average over his last four starts.
“Those were two of their best outings,” Derba said. “But I think they can be better.”
Derba added that he thought Sunday starter Brett Erwin also turned in a solid outing with four innings of four-hit, two-run ball. He had four strikeouts and one walk. He was limited due to a sore triceps according to Derba.
“It was a good weekend for the staff,” said graduate student first baseman Joe Bramanti.
Brad Malm and Will Binder each had a homer and a pair of doubles and John Daly had a homer and one double to key Albany’s 11-hit attack. Malm and Daly each drove in four runs.
Jordan Schulefand had a pair of homers and knocked in three for UMaine. It was the second two-homer game of the graduate student’s career. The other came when he was at Richmond. Scout Knotts also homered for UMaine.
Schulefand had three hits in all three games this weekend and went 9-for-14 for a .643 average. He has now hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games and has hit .460 (23-for-50) during that span. He also pitched after starting in right field the first two games and surrendered five hits and five runs in three innings on Sunday.
“It was a little bittersweet,” Schulefand said. “I was gassed today. I made three mistakes and they’re a great team and great teams make you pay.”
LaBonte survived walking four hitters leading off innings, saying he was still able to make quality pitches after falling behind hitters.
Leys said he was pleased about limiting his walks down to three and said he was able to keep the hitters off-balance with his change-up.
“I threw a lot of changeups and I was also able to throw my fastball for strikes most of the time,” Leys said.
On Friday, UMaine scored all four of its runs in the fifth inning on Schulefand’s double, Connor Goodman’s RBI single, Quinn McDaniel’s two-run homer to left and a run-producing fielder’s choice by Colby Emmertz.
Brewer’s Matt Pushard pitched 1 2/3 innings of hitless shutout relief to earn his ninth save, pitching out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the eighth.
Schulefand was UMaine’s only repeat hitter with his three hits while Malm and Jason Bottari had two singles each for Albany.
On Saturday, UMaine erupted for five runs in the seventh inning to snap a 1-1 tie and then hung on for the win. Goodman’s RBI bunt single, Bramanti’s two-run homer to right and Jeff Mejia’s two-run double to center highlighted the inning.
Schulefand’s three singles, Bramant’s homer and single and Jake Marquez’s two doubles paced UMaine while Binder’s homer and double, Daly’s double and single and Malm’s two base hits led the Great Danes.
UMaine will travel to play a non-league game at Boston College on Tuesday at 4 p.m. before finishing regular season play at Hartford for games on Thursday (4 p.m.), Friday (1 p.m.) and Saturday (noon).