An elusive mix of talent and chemistry sent the University of Maine baseball team back to the NCAA regionals and into the national spotlight last weekend for the first time since 2006.

The Black Bears went 1-2 at the Chapel Hill (N.C.) Regional, their so-called road to Omaha ending in a 5-2 elimination-game loss to James Madison.

Maine ended its season with a 33-24 record and its first America East Conference title in five seasons, along with a slew of returning players who learned how attitude and approach can affect the bottom line.

“So many times teams know they have talent but can’t win a game,” said Maine Coach Steve Trimper. “Our team knew they had talent but also knew how to play together, how to play as a unit.

“You can try and teach that, but sometimes things have to be learned on their own. These guys know what it takes to win baseball games now.”

Players met with Trimper for the last time Tuesday before scattering for the summer.

Five players are heading to the Cape Cod League for summer ball, and six will play locally in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, three for the Sanford Mainers and three for the Raging Tide, the new team in Old Orchard Beach.

All left North Carolina with a taste for success.

“We went into that regional wanting to win, wanting to make a huge impact,” said senior Joey Martin of Portland. “I think we gave ourselves a chance to win, went out there and played well.

“We did get a win, which is great. But it’s too bad the season had to end.”

Maine lost its opener 4-0 to North Carolina, the No. 3 seed in the 64-team field, but rebounded with a 4-1 win over Florida International, seeded second in the four-team regional.

Trimper said his team’s ability to play loosely but buckle down when needed was a significant factor in its success.

“There’s no question it was. The credit goes to our team,” said Trimper. “They knew how to come together. They knew how to deal with failure, adversity and they didn’t really let outside voices bother them. They just took care of getting better every day.”

Prior to Saturday’s win over FIU, Maine hadn’t won an NCAA regional game since 2005 when it beat Southern Mississippi in the Oxford (Miss.) Regional.

Prior to that was a drought of 14 years back to 1991, when the Black Bears won two games.

“We went down to the tournament to win. We didn’t want to show up as this small school from the North,” said Trimper.

“They left there mad that we didn’t win the tournament. It wasn’t like some big fake act. They were mad we didn’t win the tourney, and I think it gives them some drive.

“We played UNC tough. They’re the team I’m predicting is going to end up in the College World Series. And to knock off a very powerful FIU team was great for the program and helps build for the future.”

“Being able to end my career on this high note, going to the regionals and getting a win was huge for me personally and the program,” said Martin.

Maine went 18-3 in its last 21 games, sweeping through the conference tournament before heading to North Carolina.

“It was a great run,” said Trimper. “The guys kept working harder and harder, every day just trying to be better than they were yesterday.”

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: JennMenendez