SANFORD — More than anything else, what the 2013 Sanford Mainers may be remembered for is what they had to overcome ”“ mainly, an unbelievable amount of rain and an absurd amount of bad luck in the injury department.

“We had to overcome quite a bit,” said Sanford manager Aaron Izaryk, whose team went 22-23 and made the playoffs for the sixth-consecutive season. “With the rain, you’re kind of fighting the same battle as everybody else, but our injuries happened a little bit earlier than other people’s injuries.

“If you’re going to have injuries, that’s actually when you want them so you can do what we did and kind of reload and get ready for a playoff run.”

In total, the injuries forced the Mainers to send home 14 players from the opening-day roster, while several others missed sizable chunks of the season before returning.

Perhaps the most notable injury, and most representative, was that of Zander Wiel. After arriving in Sanford from Vanderbilt University on June 17, Wiel went on a tear, batting .321 with two home runs and eight RBIs in his first eight games, earning him the NECBL’s “Player of the Week” honors.

That production, however, came to an end on June 26 when Wiel hurt his wrist in a game against Danbury. After first being listed as day-to-day, Wiel eventually sat out nearly a month with the injury before the team released him as the wrist didn’t heal.

It was injuries to key players like Wiel that ripped apart the original roster Izaryk and General Manager John Webb had finalized in October, forcing them to find replacements on the fly.

Webb and Izaryk, however, brought in substitutes such as Matt Verrier, a catcher on the University of Southern Maine’s national championship runner-up team this past spring who was playing in Portland’s Twilight League.

Verrier had played with the Mainers two summers ago, and after regular catcher Cole Martin went down with an injury in mid-July, he made a return trip to Sanford, batting .273 and playing errorless baseball behind the plate in 14 games.

While Izaryk didn’t have to search too far to find Verrier, he got a little lucky when he nabbed two other replacements from far away.

Daniel Nevares and Billy Bereszniewicz had started the season with the Fayetteville (North Carolina) SwampDogs of the Coastal Plains League but left the team after a run of awful weather ”“ Fayetteville played just two games from June 30 through July 16.

Fortuitously for the Mainers, John Howell and Jake Thomas, Binghamton University teammates of Nevares and Bereszniewicz, had both been sent home from Sanford with injuries on July 16, opening up two spots on the roster.

Nevares and Bereszniewicz filled in seamlessly as Sanford went on a much-needed, five-game winning streak after the pair arrived, with Nevares batting .281 and Bereszniewicz playing top-notch outfield defense in their three weeks with the team.

“We were lucky that we got some very good players in late in the year,” Izaryk said. “What happens is a lot of older players are available, some guys who maybe didn’t get drafted or didn’t decide to go out for summer ball, and now they’re willing to play a couple weeks.

“That’s where we got most of our guys ”“ guys who hadn’t been placed that we were fortunate to pick up at a late juncture.”

One player who knew all about injuries and the Mainers was shortstop Troy Black, who was forced to leave Sanford just 17 games into the 2012 season with an injury.

Black had been batting just .170 in 53 at-bats before the injury, and decided to make the trip back down to Goodall Park this summer to find some redemption.

The University of Maine senior did just that, batting .293 from the leadoff spot and leading the team in runs scored with 25 and stolen bases ”“ 13 ”“ earning himself a starting spot on the East Division All-Star team.

“Troy Black was one I can’t say enough about,” Izaryk said. “He left here early with an injury last year, and I think he would admit that he didn’t play his best baseball before he left. Him having such a huge summer for us was so important to what we did.”

If Black was the MVP on offense, there’s little doubt as to who was the most valuable pitcher on the 2013 Mainers.

In fact, closer Steven Rice, like Wiel, may have been the best pitcher in the entire NECBL this season, tying for the league lead in wins with five while also saving six games and compiling a 0.94 ERA.

Rice also struck out 52 batters in 28.2 innings, a 16.326 strike outs per nine innings pitched number that led the league by a wide margin.

“He had one of the best summers that you could have,” Izaryk said. “Being fifth in the league in strike outs is crazy for a reliever, but he was striking out two guys an inning.”

Rice’s performance was all the more impressive, and important, considering that going into the season, Izaryk had no idea how the end of games would shake out.

“One thing I told everyone in the spring was I think we’re going to hit a little bit, I think we’re going to run a little bit, I think we’re going to pitch a little bit, but we don’t have that one guy at the end of the bullpen,” Izaryk said. “That was the one concern I had, but we definitely had the guy at the end of the bullpen.”

It was performances like those of Rice and Black that allowed the Mainers to return to the postseason discussion in the last week of the season as they fought back from a 3 1/2 game deficit with five games to play to force a one-game play-in with the Laconia Muskrats.

Sanford won that game 4-2, earning a spot in the divisional semifinals with Newport. And although the Gulls won that series in a two-game sweep, Izaryk said just getting that far in a season full of hurdles could be deemed a success.

“Our goal every year is to get in the playoffs and see what you can do,” he said. “That’s all we wanted was a chance to be a part of the discussion. We got beat by a good team, but our goal is to make that round of eight and give ourselves a chance to compete for a championship, and we did.”

— Staff Writer Cameron Dunbar can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 323.



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