There’s no question, the record looks bad. But coach Chris Bessey and the University of Maine at Farmington baseball team insist last year’s 5-29 mark doesn’t tell the whole story.

“Even though our record didn’t show it last year, we were pretty competitive in all of our games,” he said.

The numbers back it up. The Beavers were 0-10 in one-run games, and 2-17 in games decided by three runs or fewer. UMF’s undoing last season was not one of overall ineptitude, as the record suggests, but a flaw in a few small, but key areas.

“We just weren’t able to sometimes make things happen,” Bessey said. “I think that was a big factor in us losing games last year. With most of our roster back this year, we’re hoping that the little mistakes we made last year that cost us the one-run games will be a win instead if the mistakes don’t happen.”

It’s early, but so far, there are reasons to believe this year can look less like last season’s endeavor and more like 2016, when UMF went 23-16 and made the North Atlantic Conference tournament. The Beavers are 3-4 after their trip south, having split three doubleheaders in Auburndale, Florida. By comparison, last year’s team didn’t win its third game until April 23.

“We had a lot better record down there this year. … It’s just a good confidence (builder),” said sophomore infielder and pitcher Ryan Pratt, a Mt. Blue product. “We lost so many of those one-run games (last season). … We have more confidence that we can hold those games.”

Not many outside of Farmington share the Beavers’ optimism. UMF was picked to finish last in the NAC, which Bessey said he was prepared to see.

“I told them that when the preseason poll comes out, most likely we’ll be in last place because a lot of people aren’t going to look in-depth into our schedule and understand that we lost that many games by three runs or less,” he said. “I think there’s been a positive in knowing that we built all that experience last year and we went through our bumps, and hopefully they just plan on making it pay off this year.”

The key to that turnaround is at the plate, where UMF slumped badly last season. The Beavers’ pitching was serviceable, with a 5.72 ERA compared to 5.61 for the league, but the team batting average fell from .291 to .245 — and the Beavers struggled even more in the clutch.

“We really struggled hitting last year, especially with two outs and some clutch situations,” senior pitcher and outfielder Riley Chickering said. “I think last year we kind of, when we lost a couple of those games, we started to tense up in those situations and kind of overthink things.”

The Beavers also saw their top hitter leave in Derek Bowen, who hit .374 with four home runs as a freshman but is not playing this year in order to focus on academics.

“That was a big loss for us, to try to make up his absence in our lineup,” Bessey said. “I don’t think you really replace a hitter like him. I think you use multiple people to try to fill in the gap.”

So far, however, UMF has had success. After batting .240 last season, Taylor Lockhart is hitting .348. Sophomore Chase Molloy had two at-bats last year but is hitting .429 so far. And Chickering, a .289 hitter last year, is up to .381 with the team’s only home run.

“We’ve had some that have had pretty good starts,” Bessey said. “Riley Chickering had a great Florida trip and he’s hitting pretty high, he’s pretty consistent and making good contact. Even when he got out it’d be a hard-hit ball.”

The pitching has scuffled, with Pratt (2-0, 2.16) and Gavin Arsenault (1-0, 3.86, 10 strikeouts in seven innings) the brightest spots, but Bessey is confident that the staff will rebound in the coming games. And there’s a feeling on the team that the offense will perform at a high enough level to make more of the staff’s stronger outings stand up.

“I think the lack of being able to produce runs made things more difficult. An error, if we scored more runs, wouldn’t be as back-breaking as it was,” Bessey said. “Hopefully … we’ll be able to score more runs which will take a little more pressure off our pitching and our defense.”

The early results are encouraging. UMF is hitting .283, nearly at 2016’s .291 clip, and the Beavers have been better in the key moments. UMF even has an elusive one-run win, an 11-10 win over Crown College (Minnesota).

“As far as this year is concerned, we kind of knew that going in, that we could compete with those teams and we just need to find a way to win,” Chickering said. “I think, especially in the three games we’ve won, we did a very good job of that.”

The key will be keeping that up, as the 2016 team was able to do.

“We won close games and there was a lot of clutch hitting,” Chickering said. “So that’s a big thing this year. We know we have a good pitching staff and we know we’re going to be in a lot of close games. It’s just being up there relaxed and make big plays when we need to.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM