KINGSTON, R.I. — When it was finally over, and the young men in the green had tossed their gloves high in the air and piled atop each other between first base and the pitcher’s mound, the home dugout slowly emptied until one player remained, head in his palms, fingers massaging his scalp, digesting the painful truth that the next time he peeled off the blue jersey with MAINE across the chest would be his last.
“That’s why I haven’t taken it off yet,” said Michael Fransoso, the senior shortstop and America East Player of the Year. “It’s been a good four years. I couldn’t have it go another way, except for a win here.”
Second-seeded Binghamton University beat No. 1 Maine 4-0 Sunday afternoon at windswept and occasionally rainy Bill Beck Field in the championship game of the America East baseball tournament.
The title sends the Bearcats (30-23) to the NCAA Division I tournament, whose 64-team field will be announced at noon today.
Six-foot-nine-inch Binghamton pitcher Jake Lambert (7-2), who tossed a two-hit shutout against No. 3 Albany on Wednesday, held Maine to five hits over eight innings Sunday and never allowed a runner to third base. He walked one and struck out seven.
“He was on today,” Fransoso said. “He did exactly what Tommy Lawrence did the other day to Binghamton, and that was come back and battle on a few days’ rest.”
Lambert was named Outstanding Player of the tournament. Joining him from Maine (37-22) on the all-tourney team were pitchers Mike Connolly and Lawrence — who earned the decision in two of the three Black Bear victories — and third baseman Eric White, who batted .500 (10 for 20) in five tournament games.
Connolly, who is also Maine’s regular catcher, pitched six innings Sunday after throwing all nine Friday afternoon in a 3-1 elimination-game victory over No. 4 Stony Brook. He scattered eight hits but Binghamton scratched out a run in the first, third, sixth and, against reliever D.J. Voisine, the ninth. The Bearcats outhit Maine 11-6
“I was tired,” admitted Connolly (6-4). “I just tried to grind it out.”
After eight innings of frustration against Lambert, the Black Bears loaded the bases with one out in the ninth before reliever Mike Urbanski closed the door. Brian Doran lined out to centerfield on the game’s final pitch.
“We know the type of team they have,” said Binghamton head coach Tim Sinicki. “I was waiting for one swing of the bat to tie it up, quite honestly.”
With a strong wind blowing straight in from centerfield most of the afternoon, anything hit in the air had little chance of traveling far. Binghamton (30-23) played its third errorless game of the tournament and gobbled up nearly everything Maine hit on the ground.
“We went down fighting, we went down kicking,” said Maine head coach Steve Trimper. “Binghamton’s a good baseball team. They won 30 games in the Northeast and that’s not easy to do.”
The rain-plagued tournament started Wednesday at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Mass., home of the
Red Sox rookie-league affiliate Spinners. It was scheduled to end as early as Friday night, but the Black Bears forced a winner-take-all game by beating Binghamton 6-1.
When Saturday was a washout, organizers moved the finale east to the University of Rhode Island and its artificial turf surface.
Any momentum that Maine carried from surviving two win-or-go-home contests Friday evaporated in the top of the first inning, when Zach Blanden scored from second base on a two-out grounder in the hole despite a diving stop by Fransoso, who popped up, pumped once to make sure Blanden wasn’t bluffing, then made a throw home that sailed up the line toward first.
“If I make that play,” Fransoso said, “then who knows? We might come in and score the next run and gain momentum.”
Fransoso’s infield single in the first was Maine’s only hit until White led off the bottom of the fifth with a single to right, the first ball Lambert allowed out of the infield.
“I’ve never been more proud of a team I’ve ever coached,” Trimper said. “We couuldn’t have had more of an effort from these guys. If I get that performance every year, we’re going to have a lot of championships.”
Trimper’s voice quavered when he spoke of his senior captain.
“He’s the best I’ve ever coached, bottom line,” Trimper said. “It’s even stupid to say that I’m going to miss him, because, you know … there’s not going to be another Mike Fransoso, that’s for sure.”