ORONO — The sun was finally shining Sunday over Mahaney Diamond, but the cloud that is hanging over the Maine baseball team refused to yield.
The Black Bears suffered a pair of agonizing losses to Hartford, paying dearly for every mistake.
In the opener, Maine managed to score four runs off the hottest pitcher in college baseball, only to lose 6-4 in extra innings by surrendering two runs without the ball leaving the infield.
In Game 2, the Black Bears got just a lone single and bounced into two double plays while falling 2-1.
“We’re a talented team that’s not executing the plays that we have to to win in the conference,” Maine Coach Steve Trimper said.
“They nipped us in two games today. That’s really what it is. America East right now is one big, even group. There’s not going to be a standout team.”
Last year, Maine won the conference with a 20-9 mark. Sunday’s losses, before an announced crowd of 581 on a 41-degree afternoon, dropped Maine to 9-18 overall and 1-4 in America East. The same teams meet again at 3 p.m. Monday.
“We’re there. We’re four plays away from being 5-0 in conference,” Maine pitcher Tommy Lawrence said.
“Last year, we came and we killed conference. We’re stunned right now, but I think we’ll get it going.”
Lawrence went nine innings in Sunday’s first game, but came temporarily unglued in the fourth and gave up four runs. He walked the bases loaded, battled back to strike out Chris DelDebbio, then got ahead of Joe Roberti 1-2. But two close breaking pitches were called balls by umpire Frank Neves, and Lawrence eventually walked Roberti, then got no luck on a couple infield singles, one of which was a popup that landed at the feet of second baseman Troy Black, who misplayed it in the wind.
“It kind of got in my head a little bit, rattled me,” Lawrence said of the Roberti walk.
Maine fell behind 4-1 against Hartford ace Sean Newcomb, who hadn’t surrendered an earned run in 392/3 innings entering the game. But the Black Bears touched him for three runs in the sixth, the big blow a Jonathan Salcedo two-run single to left field.
Lawrence got stronger after that erratic fourth inning, refusing to come out of the game after seven innings. He stayed in for two more innings and finished with nine strikeouts, allowing five hits and six walks.
“He’s a bulldog; he won’t come out of the games unless I wrestle him,” Trimper said.
In the 11th inning, Hartford got a walk and then benefited from some poor decision-making by Maine. Salcedo, the catcher, tried to get the runner at second on a sacrifice bunt, but his throw arrived late and both runners were safe. After another bunt put runners at second and third, Maine shortstop Shane Bussey tried to get the runner at the plate on a ground ball, and that throw also didn’t have a chance. Hartford (15-10, 5-2) pushed across another run on a ground ball.
Shaun Coughlin pitched well for Maine in the seven-inning second game. But he allowed two runs in the first on a pair of singles and a walk, and this time the Black Bears weren’t able to come back.
Sam Balzano cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the first after drawing a leadoff walk and moving to third when Hartford pitcher Brian Hunter threw the ball down the right-field line trying to pick him off. Balzano scored on a Colin Gay grounder.
Maine got just an infield single from Black. Gay grounded into a double play with the bases loaded to end one rally. Steven Adam hit into a double play with two runners on to kill another.
“We worked good counts against him. And then Colin Gay is one of our fastest guys. All he has to do is not hit it at second base and he doesn’t turn the double play,” Trimper lamented.
Maine has lost its last four conference games, two of them in extra innings, the others by 2-1 scores.
But Balzano said the team isn’t looking at itself as snakebit.
“We’re not worried. We’ll be fine,” he said.
“We’ll get them tomorrow.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: