The boys from Maine are back in town. Can it really have been eight months?
The Black Bears became perhaps the favorite opposing team to ever play in Oxford in any sport during last June's NCAA Regional for a lot of reasons.
First of all, Ole Miss won 5-0 in the Friday night game against Maine, and then all Ole Miss fans appeared to become Black Bears fans, too. Maine beat Southern Mississippi the following day and played Oklahoma after that for the right to play Ole Miss again. The Black Bears lost to the Sooners, but Rebel fans tried to help them win again.
As soon as their team was eliminated, the Black Bears were turned loose to have some fun in Oxford, bonding with Ole Miss fans in the stands and in the outfield areas, and even getting to know the Rebel players themselves better following the Regional Sunday night as they stayed in town and hung out with the Oxford Regional champions.
Ole Miss junior center fielder Alex Presley says the Rebels are looking forward to the weekend's series against some old friends.
"We've known for a while they were coming back," Presley said. "We're looking forward to it. We've mostly been focused on our other opponents up until now. But now we can get ready for three games against Maine. We know it will be a fun weekend of baseball in Oxford."
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, who along with his staff got the Black Bears to come back to Oxford when another series that was lined up for this weekend got cancelled late last summer, said he knows this will be a special weekend that people in both camps have looked forward to.
"I know it's exciting for our fans since they got to know a little bit about the Maine baseball program last year," Bianco said. "I think they befriended a lot of their kids and coaches and the program. There were a lot of nice comments about Oxford from their program about this community and the baseball environment here. It's neat that they can come back here the year after they were in the Regional.
"In addition to all that, for us it's another weekend of baseball," Bianco continued. "We have to get ready to play some baseball again."
Maine, which is opening its 2006 season this weekend, returns 14 letterwinners and five starters from a squad that finished 35-19 a year ago. Joe Hough returns to anchor center field for the Black Bears. Hough batted .336 a year ago with 55 runs scored, 11 doubles, five triples and six home runs. He had 36 RBI and led the Black Bears with 21 stolen bases. Ryan Quintal is slated to start in left field for the Black Bears. Quintal, one of just two players to see action on all 54 games a year ago, batted .335 with 46 runs scored, 18 doubles and a team-best 49 RBI. His 74 hits also led the team.
Curt Smith hit .343 a year ago with 37 runs scored and 38 RBI. Smith started 52 games at third base a year ago and was named a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American. Joel Barrett returns as the starting first baseman. Barrett hit .340 a year ago with 42 runs scored and 43 RBI. He had a .987 fielding percentage. Greg Norton and Troy Martin return as the aces of the staff. Norton will miss some time early in the season after an off-season injury. He finished 9-4 last year and tied the Maine record for starts in a season with 15. Martin was 8-2 a year ago with a 4.02 ERA.
Nolan Boike who saw limited time a year ago, is expected to start for the Black Bears this season. Scott Robinson will be Maine's closer. He was 2-2 a year ago with a 4.43 ERA. His nine saves led America East and ranked 38th in the nation.
Maine has a new coaching staff for the 2006 season. Steve Trimper was named head coach on August 18, 2006, after spending the past seven seasons at Manhattan College. He replaced Paul Kostacopoulos who is now the head coach at Navy. Ironically Coach K and the Midshipman are also in the Mid-South this weekend as part of the annual Service Academy Classic in Millington, Tenn, just north of Memphis.
Maine was chosen first in the 2006 America East Preseason Coaches' Poll. The Black Bears received six of seven first-place votes and 47 points overall. Maine was followed by Stony Brook, Vermont, Binghamton, Albany, UMBC and Hartford.
The Black Bears have selected four captains for the 2006 season, all familiar names to those who followed the Regional last season. Seniors Joe Hough, Ryan Quintal and Scott Robinson will serve as captains, along with junior Joel Barrett.
While the Black Bears haven't played a game since being eliminated by the Sooners here last June, the Rebels are 3-1 and coming off their first loss of the season, a 3-2 setback to Samford.
Listed below are the probable matchups this weekend between the Rebels and the Black Bears.
FRIDAY, 3:00 P.M.
MAINE - Troy Martin (Jr., RHP, 8-2, 4.02 ERA, 69.1 IP)
Ole Miss - Tommy Baumgardner (Sr., LHP, 1-0, 0.00 ERA 7.0 IP)
NOTING BAUMGARDNER: Baumgardner opened the 2006 season with a win after closing the 2005 season with a win in his last start against UF in the SEC Tournament. Baumgardner struck out four and walked two, while allowing no runs on three hits in a 9-1 win over Saint Louis.
SATURDAY, 1:30 P.M.
MAINE- Nolan Boike (So., LHP, 0-1, 8.53 ERA, 12.2 IP)
Ole Miss - Nick Hetland (Jr, RHP, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 5.0 IP)
NOTING HETLAND: Hetland picked up his first win as a Rebel in an 11-2 win over Saint Louis last weekend. Hetland allowed two unearned runs on four hits, while walking three and striking out four batters.
SUNDAY, 1:30 P.M.
MAINE- Pat Moran (Fr., RHP, First Appearance)
Ole Miss - Cody Satterwhite (Fr., RHP, 1-0, 3.60 ERA, 5.0 IP)
NOTING SATTERWHITE: Satterwhite earned the win in his first career start against Samford on Tuesday. The freshman's first pitch, a 97 mph fastball, notched a strike. From there, he went on to pic up the win as he allowed three runs, two earned, on six hits. He struck out five and walked two.
*** The Ole Miss and Maine athletics media relations websites contributed information to this story.
The boys from Maine are back in town
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