LOWELL, Mass. — Only two teams remain in the America East baseball tournament, and Maine is one of them.
The top-seeded Black Bears survived an elimination game with No. 4 Stony Brook on Friday afternoon, winning 3-1 at LeLacheur Park for the right to face No. 2 Binghamton Friday night.
Maine (36-21) must beat Binghamton (29-22) twice to claim the America East title and accompanying automatic NCAA tournament berth.
Earlier Friday afternoon, Binghamton closed out a 10-2 victory over Maine in a game suspended by rain Thursday night.
The Black Bears won Friday afternoon despite striking out 15 times, 13 of them against Stony Brook lefthander Daniel Zamora, who had thrown eight shutout innings against them last month in Orono.
Zamora (2-8) held the Black Bears scoreless for seven of his eight innings Friday afternoon, but they reached him in the sixth to overcome a 1-0 Stony Brook lead.
Michael Fransoso, the conference Player of the Year, delivered a two-run single, then swiped second base before the next pitch was thrown while the Seawolves were still digesting their lost lead.
“Unbelievable,” said teammate Mike Connolly. “The kids are in twilight land over there walking back to their positions and you’ve got Mike taking second.”
Fransoso proceeded to steal third in more conventional fashion and scored on the second of three hits by Brewer native Eric White.
“Today is what I’m going to miss big-time,” Maine coach Steve Trimper said about Fransoso, a senior shortstop. “He plays the game so well, and thinks the game so well, it’s why we are where we are. We’ve been seeing this for four years.”
Fransoso made a tumbling over-the-shoulder catch in shallow left field to end the game with a runner on base. In the fifth, when Stony Brook scored its only run, he short-hopped a throw from catcher Jonathan Salcedo and quickly applied a tag to thwart an attempted steal, likely saving another run.
“It was a small-ball type of day,” Fransoso said. “You just have to grind those out.”
Connolly (6-3) went the distance for Maine, scattering eight hits, half of them in the final two frames, walking three, fanning three and throwing 121 pitches. He is Maine’s regular catcher as well as the conference ERA leader.
“I didn’t have the best stuff today, but I just tried to grind it out,” Connolly said. “He said, ‘How do you feel?’ I said, ‘I’m not coming out.’ “
White and Fransoso accounted for five of Maine’s six hits. The other was a double by Portland native Sam Balzano chopped over the head of Stony Brook first baseman Johnny Caputo following a lead-off walk by Colin Gay in Maine’s decisive sixth.
“Now we’re switching gears,” Trimper said. “It was a great win, an emotional win, (Connolly) pitched his butt off in that game and we manufactured a couple of runs like we had to and we came out on top.”
For the evening game against Binghamton, Trimper turned to ace Tommy Lawrence, who threw 104 pitches in a complete-game 2-0 victory over Stony Brook in the tournament opener on Wednesday afternoon.
“He’s a bulldog and we’re thin on pitching and tournaments are won on remarkable performances,” Trimper said. “Maybe we can get four or five innings out of him and see if we can piece it together from there. We’re in all-hands-on-deck mode.”
Should Maine win Friday night, a a winner-take-all final is scheduled for Saturday night at 8.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at firstname.lastname@example.org