LOWELL, Mass. — The University of Maine baseball team saved its worst for last.

The Black Bears were punchless at the plate when it mattered, scatterbrained on the base paths, unable to turn routine ground balls into outs.

The result was an 11-2 loss to Hartford on Friday in an elimination game at the America East Conference tournament at LeLacheur Park. It was their most lopsided setback of the season against a conference opponent, and marked the second straight spring that Maine has been swept from the playoffs.

“We played a terrible game. Unfortunately, it was at a bad time, it was at a pivotal time,” Maine Coach Steve Trimper said after his team’s season ended with a 24-28 record. “We just didn’t play well in the tournament and that’s when you have to play well. That’s my job to get them prepared.”

The Black Bears fell behind 8-0 in an opening-round game Thursday and lost 9-5 to Maryland-Baltimore County. As an encore, they fell into an identical 8-0 hole against Hartford pitcher Sam McKay, who hadn’t won since March 15.

The problems started in the top of the first, when Black Bears center fielder Sam Balzano drew a leadoff walk, stole second base and sprinted to third on a throwing error by catcher Billy Walker. Balzano stayed there while Alex Cabrera struck out, Scott Heath popped up and Brett Chappell fanned. Hartford (23-30) scored a run in the bottom of the first.

“For Sam to work his way out of it was really big, and then for us to come back and score first was great on top of that,” said Hartford Coach Justin Blood.

Added Heath, Maine’s starting pitcher: “Not getting the job done, it’s unacceptable. Kind of maybe set the tone in a bad way a little early.”

The game devolved into a cavalcade of mistakes by Maine. Luke Morrill was picked off of first base after a second-inning single and Brenden Geary got caught wandering off first by Walker in the third inning.

A throwing error by Morrill at third base handed Hartford a run in the third. Shortstop Chappell bobbled a potential double-play grounder in the fifth, enabling the Hawks to tack on their seventh and eighth runs.

Then came the most damaging gaffe. The Black Bears loaded the bases with three singles to lead off the sixth. After a shallow flyout, Morrill ripped what appeared to be a sure double into the right-field corner, where the ball one-hopped the wall. But freshman Alex Cabrera, at second base, broke back as if to tag up. When right fielder Ryan Lukach fielded the carom cleanly and returned the ball to the infield, Cabrera was only on third base, with Heath bearing down on him before braking in surprise and Morrill already standing on second.

Hartford opted to let Cabrera score a second Maine run while tagging out Heath between second and third. Morrill was credited with a single and RBI. Brian Doran ended the promising rally with a groundout.

Maine never scored again.

“I wish I could give you an answer why we did that,” Trimper said. “Are we emotionally just let down or physically got tired? We just didn’t do the little things right, and when you do five little things wrong it leads to some runs. You can get away with one of them.”

Maine went 8-4 in conference play down the stretch just to earn its playoff spot. Morrill, the team’s leading hitter with a .367 average, couldn’t account for the sudden and dismal end to the season, either.

“We grinded the past three weeks to get into the playoffs and we grinded here, and I couldn’t be more proud of the guys’ effort,” said Morrill, a senior. “We might have ran out of a little gas there at the end. We had to get through a lot of games the last couple of weeks.”

Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH

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