Trevor LaBonte walked out to the mound at Russo Park on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette earlier this month.
The stadium was at full capacity with more than 4,000 in attendance and LaBonte, a freshman with the University of Maryland baseball team, stood in the middle of the diamond and took a breath.
“The stadium was phenomenal,” LaBonte said. “I was looking around and just took it all in and thought ‘this is really happening.’ I was lucky to pitch well in that game, that experience was cool."
LaBonte, a 2017 graduate of York High School, allowed one hit and struck out six over six innings, getting a no-decision in Maryland’s 2-1 loss.
Eight days later, with his father and some friends in attendance, he got his first collegiate win. The hard-throwing right-hander allowed three runs over 5 innings as the Terrapins earned an 8-4 win over Stetson.
“That was really special, especially having my dad there to watch,” LaBonte said. “It’s something I am not going to forget; it was a pretty special feeling.”
LaBonte had a no-hitter going into the fifth inning. He had a strikeout to start the inning, but the no-hitter was broken up by Kyle Ball, a graduate of Exeter High School, with a single to left field on a 2-1 pitch.
“(Ball) he got me today,” laughed LaBonte, who got Ball to pop-up to shortstop in his first at-bat back in the third inning.
LaBonte, who spent a post-graduate year at Bridgton Academy after graduating from York, has emerged as the weekend starter for the Terrapins and has pitched in 17.1 innings so far, third highest on the team and he has an ERA of 2.60. He has fanned 13, and hitters are batting .160 against him in four appearances, the last three being starts.
“He’s been awesome,” said Maryland second-year head coach Rob Vaughn. “He’s such a great kid. We knew he would be in the mix early to pitch, but we didn’t know what it was going to be. We didn’t know if he was going to be a mid-week role, a bullpen role, or on the weekend. He kind of emerged, especially when one of our starters from last year got banged up. (LaBonte) has been nothing short of incredible. He’s pounding the zone, competes hard, and his (velocity) keeps jumping every week. He’s really starting to gain confidence with what he’s doing. We are really pumped he is with us, he’s throwing the ball well.”
LaBonte made his collegiate debut on February 17 at Virginia Commonwealth University, pitching 1.1 innings of relief in Maryland’s 5-3 win. He allowed one earned run on one hit, while striking out one.
His next appearance was his first start, facing of all teams, the University of Maine, his childhood favorite.
“That was pretty special,” LaBonte said. “I definitely was nervous before that game; I am pretty nervous anytime I step on the mound. Coach just wanted me to get through the first inning, so I wasn’t thinking about going seven scoreless or anything crazy like that. I wanted to get as many outs as I could.”
LaBonte ended up going 5 innings, striking out three and allowing three hits and one earned run and getting a no-decision in Maryland’s 9-6 win.
“Our defense played well and our offense swung it well,” LaBonte said. “We put up some runs early and that allowed me to settle in and get in a groove.”
Maryland struck for five runs in the first inning, providing LaBonte an early lead.
“Starting against Maine, the team he grew up cheering for, I am sure he had a ton of emotion,” Vaughn said. “He earned that start, and deserved that start. For me, what has really impressed me is Trevor’s composure; sometimes it's hard for young people to manage and they try to do too much and get too excited. Trevor had great composure, and kept his emotions in check. I know it came down between us and Maine, we’re really fortunate to have him on our side.”
LaBonte’s dad, who played quarterback for Maine back in the early 1980s, was there in attendance “rocking the red and black.”
“He had a joke growing up that if any of us kids went to any school beside Maine, my dad would go to the game but he would be cheering for Maine and wearing Maine apparel. He said how strange it felt cheering against Maine for the first time in his life; I am sure that was interesting for him.”
LaBonte, at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, has added 35 pounds of muscle since his York days. He has consistently been throwing between 88 and 90 miles-per-hour this season, compared to the 84 and 85 he was throwing at York.
Vaughn said LaBonte’s velocity has been getting higher with each start.
“He was between 88 and 90 and last week (against Stetson) he touched 91 five or six times and didn’t throw a pitch below 88; that’s a testament to the work he’s putting in in the weight room and what he has done with his body.”
Maryland is 9-5 on the season and begins its Big Ten schedule later this month with a three-game series against Indiana.
“It’s been surreal,” LaBonte said. “If you told me two years ago that I would be starting for the University of Maryland I wouldn’t have believed you, and if you told me my first start would be against Maine, I thought you would have had it backwards. It’s been a really special experience.”
LaBonte is scheduled to get the ball on Sunday in a home start against East Carolina.
“Every outing he has gone out there and has given our team a chance to win,” Vaughn said. “Every weekend he just gets better and better. I don’t want to say he’s exceeding our expectations because we kind of thought this was in him, but we didn’t know when it would come through. Fortunately, for us he has been money right away.”