Starting with ace pitcher Keith Bilodeau, the University of Maine baseball team will need everything it’s got to advance beyond the NCAA regional at Chapel Hill, N.C., as the No. 4 seed this weekend.

First up for the Black Bears (32-22) is top-seeded North Carolina (45-14) of the talent-heavy Atlantic Coast Conference. The Tar Heels were seeded No. 3 overall among the 64 teams playing in 16 double-elimination regionals across the country, despite receiving an at-large bid after Virginia won the ACC tournament to earn the automatic bid.

Florida International is seeded second and James Madison third in the Chapel Hill regional.

Maine, which has won 17 of its last 18, won the America East title with a 3-0 run last week at the conference tournament, earning an automatic bid.

“(Bilodeau has) been our No. 1 and we’re not going to change anything,” said Maine Coach Steve Trimper. “The one thing Keith has done for us to establish himself as the No. 1 is keep his pitch count low. He can go deep into games.

“We have guys with more electric stuff, but Keith can grind out innings. I think that’s very important.”

Bilodeau went 1-0 in the America East tournament, giving up just two earned runs on seven hits, one walk and six strikeouts.

With temperatures in Chapel Hill topping 90 degrees on Thursday, Bilodeau said he expects he’ll have no trouble getting warm.

“I’m very happy to get the ball in Game 1,” said Bilodeau. “Our intensity is really good right now. We’re always in the game, no matter what the score is.”

Senior co-captain Joey Martin, a former Portland High standout, said Bilodeau is a gamer and commands great faith from his teammates.

“Every time he’s on the mound we know we have a chance to win,” said Martin. “He’s a huge competitor. He gets intense, comes back to the dugout, sits there quietly and gets ready to go. We know he has the stuff.”

Bilodeau throws three pitches: fastball, cut fastball and slider.

“He can throw those for strikes and can spot his off-speed pitches,” said Trimper. “Keith wants to prove he’s the best pitcher in the park. Don’t be surprised if he goes out there and (takes) it to North Carolina.”

The Tar Heels are very balanced on offense, with three batters averaging above .300: Colin Moran (.343, 9 HR, 68 RBI), Tommy Coyle (.317, 33 RBI, 17 steals) and Levi Michael (.313, 5 HR, 48 RBI). They have a team batting average of .285.

The Tar Heels are even stronger on the mound, led by Patrick Johnson, who is 11-1 with a 2.56 ERA. Left-hander Kent Emanuel (6-1 2.88 ERA) is the probable starter for today’s game.

“I don’t think it really matters to us (who they start),” said Trimper. “We have to beat a really good team to advance.

“We’re very confident and capable of winning. We’re not going down just to show up.

“Everyone is good at this level. There’s no margin for error, no margin for mistake. That’s the whole beauty of the NCAA tourney.”

Florida International (40-18-1) has a .319 team average, including .348 for Garrett Wittels, who had a 56-game hitting streak last year. Pablo Bermudez is batting .373 with 17 steals, and Jeremy Patton has a .371 average with seven homers and 53 RBI.

No. 3 James Madison is the offensive powerhouse of the regional, with 78 home runs this season and a .381 team batting average. David Herbek (.374, 15 HR, 74 RBI) and Jake Lowery (.357, 22 HR, 83 RBI) are the Dukes’ top sluggers.

Sean Tierney is the top pitcher for James Madison with a 10-1 record and a 2.79 ERA.

“We’ve learned some things but don’t want to change our approach too much,” said Martin. “In practice the other day we worked a lot on pickoffs. We know (the Tar Heels) run a little bit.

“On the other side, they have some unconventional pickoff moves they like to try. Our base runners are aware now.

“We’re calm, collected, having some fun down here. We’re just ready.”

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

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