With a forecast that is iffy at best for the weekend, the Maine Black Bears (22-15, 12-2) and the UMass Lowell River Hawks (13-27, 6-11) decided that playing two on Friday afternoon at LeLacheur Park was a good idea. The Black Bears were trying to snap a two-game losing streak at the hands of Merrimack College in a couple of mid-week games. Meanwhile, the River Hawks are attempting to stay above water and keep distance between themselves and last place UAlbany Great Danes. By gaining a split of Friday’s twin bill, the River Hawks have a three-game lead in the loss column on the Great Danes with an important game still left to be played on Saturday morning.
Game one was decided by a couple of at-bats. With the score tied at 2-2 in the fifth, Maine’s lineup got to River Hawks starter Matt Draper (2-6). With two outs and a man on, back-to-back walks to Nick White and Jeff Mejia along with a wild pitch thrown in, had Draper in some trouble. Left-hander hitting Collin Plante stepped up with the bases loaded and on a 3-1 pitch drilled a grand slam home run to right field into the trees behind the right field wall. The home run was the second of the year for Plante and gave the Black Bears a 6-2 lead. Lowell would get two of those runs back in the bottom of the inning on a 2-run home run off the bat of Jacob Humphrey (his fifth of the year) to left-center field off of Black Bears starter Colin Fitzgerald (5-1) to make it 6-4 Maine. In the very next inning, Maine got those two runs back. Draper (5 IP, 7 hits, 6 earned runs, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts) was replaced by Miles Cota to begin the sixth inning for Lowell. A single by Jake Marques was followed one out later by a single from Quinn McDaniels. Jeremiah Jenkins filed out to very deep CF advancing Marques to third. With Connor Goodman (3-for-4, 2 RBI) at the plate, McDaniels stole second base. With two runners in scoring position, Goodman delivered a 2-run base hit to center field to give Maine a four-run lead in the sixth at 8-4. Since this was the first game of a DH, seven innings is all that is played. With the four-run lead, Maine’s head coach Nick Derba went to his bullpen after getting five good innings from Fitzgerald (3 hits, 4 earned runs, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts) He brought on the closer Justin Baeyens to close things out. Instead, Baeyens got into immediate trouble. Three straight hits by Fritz Genther, pinch-hitter Frank Wayman, and Ryan Proto set the River Hawks in great shape for a big inning in the sixth. But as coach Ken Harring said afterward “too many quick at-bats and quick outs.” Harring went back to his bench for another pinch-hitter in Connor Kelly who struck out swinging on a 0-2 pitch. On the first pitch he saw, Brandon Fish ground out into a 6-4-3 double play. Maine took game one 8-4. Fitzgerald got the win, Draper the loss.
Game two was a pitcher’s battle between Joshua Becker of the River Hawks and Caleb Leys of the Black Bears. Lowell took the lead in the sixth after five solid innings from Keys (5 IP, 1 hit, zero runs, 4 BB, 5 Ks). Maine went to their bullpen and brought on Gianni Gambardella. With one out he walked DH Trey Brown. After getting Alex Luccini to field out, 1B Matt Tobin ripped a double just inside the third base bag down the line all the way to the wall. It scored Brown all the way from first base to give the River Hawks a 1-0 lead. Maine answered against Becker in the seventh on a sac fly by catcher Dean O’Neill to tie the game at 1-1. Lowell took the lead back in the bottom of the seventh by being aggressive on the base paths. They got a one-out single by Humphrey, who then stole both second and third base. Proto struck out swinging and it looked like Lowell was going to waste another chance. But the River Hawks caught a break during Gerry Siracusa’s at-bat. Gambardella uncorked a wild pitch that scored Humphrey to give Lowell the lead back at 2-1. Harring went to his bullpen after 7.1 innings from Becker (4 hits, 1 unearned run, 6 punch outs, 0 walks) and called on LJ Keevan to get five outs. Keevan did the job going 1.2 innings 1 hit, and 2 walks to pick up his first save of the season. Lowell gains the split with a 2-1 game two win.
Coach Harring told his team between games that game two “was a must-win game,” He told them this was a “tournament type game.” The thoughts were echoed by game two winner Joshua Becker (3-2) who called game two “pretty big.” When asked what was working for him he said his curveball was and he wanted to dominate with his fastball. He called game two “A grinding win.” He, like the rest of his teammates, still believe the best is still ahead of them this season. Freshman Nick DiRito gets the ball on Saturday for Lowell.
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