In a unique season that does not foresee the University of Maine’s baseball team traveling outside of the Northeast, the Black Bears are off to a strong start. Last year before the season was shut down due to the pandemic, the Maine baseball team was a miserable 1-12. Now a year later, the Black Bears appear to be a more competitive group.
Maine’s opening weekend premiered in North Andover, Massachusetts at Merrimack College for a four game series with two double headers on March 6 and 7. Maine went on to win three of those four games, and outscored Merrimack 27-17 over the course of the four games. The first two games saw great pitching performances for Maine.
Third-year pitcher Nicholas Sinacola had 11 strikeouts and only let up one run in the opening game of the season for the Black Bears, en route to a 9-2 victory. The second game, which happened on the same day, saw first-year pitcher Noah Lewis follow in Sinacola’s footsteps. Lewis only let up one run in six innings of play with five strikeouts. Fifth-year pitcher Matthew Pushard would relieve Lewis and strikeout three of the four batters he would face to seal the 4-1 victory for Maine.
The third game, and first of the day two of games, saw the Maine offense struggle to build momentum. The Black Bears totaled six hits, but none came within the same inning, and Maine was shutout by a Merrimack team that benefitted early in the first inning from a bases loaded walk, and an error that put Merrimack up 2-0 early. A three-run sixth inning, which saw the lone home run of the game, put Merrimack up 5-0. Despite Maine having one more hit than Merrimack, they lost 5-0.
The fourth and final game of the opening series saw a dramatic comeback for the Black Bears. Going into the final inning of the game, Maine was down 9-6 to Merrimack. The ninth started out with Maine getting two runners on base with their first two batters. This was followed by second-year infielder Connor Goodman singling to right center and driving in a run to drop the Merrimack lead to two. With two men on base and one out, first-year infielder Jake Rainess hit a bomb to left field that left the park and put Maine up 10-9. Maine would go on to put up four more runs in the ninth inning, followed by fifth-year pitcher Dillon Stimpson striking out the side in the ninth inning to seal the 14-9 win for Maine.
Leaving the opening weekend with a record of 3-1 was a good start, but their next game would be their toughest test of the season. On Tuesday, March 9, Maine traveled to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts to take on the nationally-ranked Boston College Eagles. Maine got off to a great start with a solo home run by first-year infielder Quinn McDaniel in the top of the first inning, but Boston College would respond with a solo home run of their own in the bottom of the first. Boston College and Maine traded runs with each other throughout the game until the seventh inning, where Boston College pulled away. With the game tied 5-5 in the bottom of the seventh, Boston College hit back-to-back home runs that allowed them to take an 8-5 lead. This was followed by another home run in the eighth that extended their lead and culminated in a final score of 10-5. A good effort by Maine, but the Boston College offense proved to be too much to handle for the Black Bears.
The Black Bears then traveled to West Hartford, Connecticut to take on Wagner College in a three-game series with a double header on March 13, and a single game on March 14. In the first game of the series, Sinacola threw a gem of a game. Throughout seven innings of pitching, he struck out 12 batters and only surrendered one run, and advanced his personal record to 2-0 on the season. He has only let up two runs against in 12.2 innings pitched, and has an astonishing 23 strikeouts in his two starts. The Black Bears scored five runs, all coming in the sixth inning. Rainess’s grand slam proved to be the difference in the game, and the score ended with a 5-1 win for UMaine.
The second game saw Wagner College pick up a 6-2 victory over Maine. Maine out hit Wagner, but they had trouble stringing together hits for runs. Wagner College scored two runs in the first inning, and three in the eighth. These two surges by Wagner proved to be the difference.
In the third game, Maine’s offense heated up, and they put up double digit runs for the second time this season. Rainess again would do damage and hit a three-run home run to give Maine a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning. Fourth-year infielder Sean Lawlor hit a double that drove in three runs in the same inning, and Maine went from trailing 1-0 to up 6-1. Maine would add another run in the sixth, and then exploded again for five runs in the eighth to extend their lead to 12-1. Wagner scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth but it wasn’t enough to take the lead, and Maine won the game 12-3.
The performances this weekend by Sinacola and Rainess were good enough for them to pick up weekly awards. Sinacola took home America East Pitcher of the week, and Rainess was awarded America East Rookie of the week.
Maine’s next series was scheduled to be at Stony Brook for games on March 20 and 21, but it was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns within the Stony Brook team. The Black Bears’ next series will be their home opener on March 27 and 28. They will take on the University of Maryland Baltimore County on the Black Bears’ home turf in Orono. The Black Bears will look to build on their strong start against an undefeated UMBC team that has scored 13 or more runs in all five of their games thus far, but with the performances we have seen already, there is hope for a triumphant performance on the home turf.