ORONO — This is not how Coach Nick Derba saw the season ending for his University of Maine baseball team, the top seed in the America East Conference tournament.

Friday afternoon’s 9-7 loss to New Jersey Institute of Technology at Mahaney Diamond knocked Maine out of the double-elimination tournament after just two games. The Black Bears ended the season dropping six of their last seven games to finish 27-22 – the program’s first winning season since 2013.

“I’m very proud. I was just telling the guys, this group did something for me, I just feel like the program’s been resurrected. Our defining metric is win America East championship, I know that,” Derba said. “I just saw some things that were like, this is the start of something. We’ve got something going on here. We’re in a better place than we were a year ago.”

The Black Bears rode a 14-game win streak from early April into early May to the top of the America East standings, That win streak camouflaged pitching problems Maine had throughout the season. While the Black Bears led America East in runs scored (242 in 30 conference games), they were fifth in ERA at 5.41. In the tournament loses on Thursday and Friday, the Black Bears allowed a combined 18 earned runs.

“From a baseball standpoint, we weren’t good enough on the mound. And that’s the most important thing there is in baseball,” Derba said.

Friday, Maine tied NJIT (26-26) in the bottom of the sixth, 7-7, when Jerry Jenkins and Connor Goodman both were hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. But in the top of the seventh inning, pitching bit the Black Bears again. After getting two quick outs, Maine’s Brett Erwin was ahead of NJIT catcher Luke Longo on a 1-2 count when Longo turned on a fastball for a solo home run and an 8-7 lead.

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“I’m down 1-2 in the count. Honestly, I’m just looking fastball and adjusting from there. I ended up getting an inside heater and kind of just went with it,” said Longo, who also hit a solo home run to lead off the second inning and give the Highlanders a 2-0 lead.

Julio Marcano led off the ninth with a solo home run for the Highlanders, his second homer of the game after a two-run shot in the sixth to give NJIT a 7-5 lead. Julio’s twin brother, David, hit a two-run home run in the second inning to push NJIT’s lead to 4-0. Maine starting pitcher Caleb Leys lasted just 1 1/3 innings, giving way to Noah Lewis, who went 4 2/3, allowing three runs.

In all, the Highlanders hit five home runs.

While Maine had 10 hits, including an RBI triple and RBI double from Goodman, the Black Bears stranded 12 runners. Maine left 13 on base in Thursday’s 9-7 loss to UMass-Lowell, giving them 25 stranded runners in two games.

“We were winning a lot of games early because of the timely hit. The timely pitch, that’s the thing. Being able to make the pitch to get through it. You’ve got to make the pitch. We struggled with that all year long,” Derba said.

After allowing two runs in the sixth by hitting two batters, Jake Rappaport settled down and pitched three scoreless innings to earn the win.

“It’s the point in the tournament where pitching’s a little low. A lot of guys have thrown, and I’m just trying to do my part. I’m a fifth-year senior so this is my last shot. My arm will fall off before I stop pitching,” Rappaport said.

The quick exit from the tournament stings, Derba said, but he’s optimistic for the future.

“We’re moving in the right direction. This is our new standard. Come in first place. We have to chase benchmarks every year,” Derba said.


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