LOWELL, Mass. – The Black Bears are alive and growling.
The University of Maine stared down elimination in consecutive America East tournament baseball games Friday afternoon and evening, beating No. 4 Stony Brook 3-1 and No. 2 Binghamton 6-1 to set up a winner-take-all contest with Binghamton at 3 p.m. Saturday at LeLacheur Park.
All that was after completing the final two innings of a 10-2 loss to Binghamton in a game suspended by rain in the seventh inning Thursday night.
The top-seeded Black Bears (37-21) played 20 innings Friday, a total of 5 hours and 22 minutes of baseball.
“That was unbelievable,” said Mike Connolly, who threw a complete-game victory in the first game and caught 11 innings in the other two contests Friday. “I’m exhausted. I’ve got to go back to the hotel, get a workout in, get this arm fresh and then I’m right back on the mound (Saturday). I’m ready to give four or five innings.”
Maine and Binghamton (29-23) are scheduled to play a championship game that was moved up to 3 p.m. Saturday from the original 8 p.m. start because of expected evening rain.
Black Bears ace Tommy Lawrence, who had tossed a complete-game shutout in Wednesday’s 2-0 tournament opener over Stony Brook, took the mound on one day of rest Friday night. Dodging trouble in every inning, he lasted into the sixth and handed a five-run lead to reliever D.J. Voisine, who retired all 10 batters he faced to close out the game.
“He’s a bulldog and we’re thin on pitching,” said Maine Coach Steve Trimper. “Tournaments are won on remarkable performances.”
Binghamton managed eight hits against Lawrence (11-2). He struck out five, walked four and set a single-season school record for victories, breaking a tie with Billy Swift and four others.
The Black Bears gave Lawrence plenty of early support, scoring twice in each of the first two innings and once more in the third. Infield singles by Sam Balzano and Troy Black set up a Michael Fransoso bunt, and Binghamton starter Jay Lynch threw high in an attempt to get the force at third, allowing Balzano to score.
White’s two-out single — his fourth of five consecutive hits stretching between the two games — made it 2-0 for Maine.
The Black Bears doubled their cushion in the second. A leadoff double by Brian Doran, a sacrifice bunt (Connolly) and a suicide squeeze (Colin Gay) scored one run. Right fielder Zach Blanden made a leaping effort to snag Black’s drive, but only succeeded in slowing it down for an RBI triple.
Maine added single runs in the third (White double, Doran single) and fifth (Alex Calbick single, Scott Heath double).
Rain and slick field conditions made every fly ball an adventure, and prompted a 36-minute delay in the fifth to work on the field and cover it during a heavier shower with a tarp.
In the victory over Stony Brook, the Black Bears overcame a 13-strikeout effort by left-hander Daniel Zamora, who had thrown eight shutout innings against them last month in Orono.
His opponent in that game, a 1-0 victory in 10 innings for Maine, was Connolly. They reprised their duel Friday afternoon, with Connolly (6-3) scattering eight hits, walking three and striking out three.
He is Maine’s regular catcher as well as the conference ERA leader (1.91).
“I didn’t have the best stuff today, but I just tried to grind it out,” Connolly said.
White and Fransoso accounted for five of Maine’s six hits. The other was a double by Balzano chopped over the head of Stony Brook first baseman Johnny Caputo following a leadoff walk by Gay in Maine’s decisive sixth.
“I think you’re always nervous when you’re in a ballgame where it could end your season,” Fransoso said.
“It comes down to someone stepping up big in a big situation, getting those runs in and playing solid defense.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: