ORONO — The University of Maine baseball team returns enough players from its 2011 NCAA tournament team to be a contender again.

Maine showed its strength last weekend at 16th-ranked Clemson, with three competitive games, one of them a victory.

It might be hard for freshmen to see playing time on such a team, but two local first-year players figure into the Black Bears’ plans this season — outfielder Sam Balzano of Deering High and outfielder-pitcher Scott Heath of Westbrook.

“Coach said he thought I would get right in there and play,” Balzano said last week, before the team took off for its annual southern spring trip.

Balzano, 19, was an all-state player for the Rams, batting .531 his senior season.

“Sammy is going to play a lot for us in the outfield,” Maine coach Steve Trimper said. “A left-handed bat, our fastest guy on the team, and he’s turned into one of our better bunters.”

Balzona entered two of the Clemson games, going 0 for 1 with a walk and a stolen base.

Heath got into the third game against Clemson and went 2 for 5 with a double.

Eventually this season, Heath plans to take the mound — an amazing development considering he underwent Tommy John surgery last June 30, after tearing a ligament in his elbow, which cut his high school season short.

Heath did not want an extended rehab and, with the doctors’ blessings, he could be pitching soon.

“I’m scheduled to (be able to) pitch by May 1,” Heath said. “May will be 10 months. That was my goal. The doctors confirmed it.

“I’m doing well on my rehab. A lot of it is just doing your rehab and not skipping exercises.”

Oh, Heath never skips exercises. If anything, he does more.

“First of all, he’s an animal in workouts,” Trimper said. “He doubled up his program. Coming into this spring, we were thinking he’s going to red-shirt (sit out a season).”

But Heath got cleared to play the outfield and has impressed with his bat. Trimper said Maine is being careful about Heath pitching but, so far, his arm has passed all the tests.

“We just talked to the doctor,” Trimper said. “It’s kind of funny with Tommy John (surgery). It started as a two-year rehab. Then it was 14 months. Now we’re seeing guys coming back in 8-12 months.”

At Westbrook, the left-handed Heath was 5-0 with a 0.00 ERA, including two one-hitters and two two-hitters, before he was injured.

• • •

Southern Maine will begin its baseball season this weekend in New York, against Lyndon State University and SUNY of Old Westbury. The Huskies’ pitching staff will be led by seniors Ben Ives of Deering High and Dustin Stanton of Sacopee Valley.

Bowdoin and St. Joseph’s start their seasons the following week.

• • •

In Division III hockey, the Bowdoin men’s and women’s teams advanced to the semifinals of the New England Small College Athletic Conference tournament. And the USM men reached the ECAC East semifinals.

The second-seeded Bowdoin men (16-5-3) beat Trinity 2-1 in last Saturday’s quarterfinals, and play third-seeded Middlebury (13-9-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Amherst College.

The third-seeded Bowdoin women (12-9-4) beat Williams 3-2 in overtime last weekend, and will play a semifinal game at 4 p.m. Saturday against second-seeded Amherst (20-4-1), at Middlebury College.

Both NESCAC title games are 2 p.m. Sunday.

USM, seeded sixth, upset No. 3 Babson 2-1 in the quarterfinals. The Huskies play at top-seeded Norwich at 4 p.m. Friday.

• • •

At the New England Track and Field Championships in Boston last weekend, a meet involving Division I, II and III schools, Maine and USM enjoyed some individual highlights.

The Black Bears’ Jesse Labreck, a Messalonskee graduate, finished second in the triple jump (39 feet, 8.75 inches), and John Bergstrom of Upton, Mass., finished fourth in the heptathalon with a school-record total of 4,889 points.

The USM women were led by Christina Massey of Winslow (sixth in the high jump, 17-4.75) and Arundel’s Hannah Wiley (seventh in the 400, in a school-record time of 56.87). Molly Carl of York finished 14th in the mile to become the first USM woman to break the 5-minute mark, at 4:59.52.


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