Maine baseball preparing for NCAA Tournament after winning America East Championship
The Black Bears start Coral Gables, Fla. regional play on Friday at 7 p.m. against No. 9 Miami
ORONO, Maine (WABI) - Maine baseball won its first America East Championship since 2011 by defeating Binghamton, 6-1, over the weekend.
The title game win earned them an NCAA Tournament bid.
“Anywhere would be a really cool experience just to go there and experience the atmosphere and hopefully win,” said Jake Marquez, junior infielder.
“Come and take it as it goes and see what happens. Hopefully we go somewhere cool and put up a fight. No one wants to play us as a four seed,” said Jake Rainess, redshirt junior utility player.
“We’re excited, for sure, but I think if we just continue to pitch the way we’ve pitched these past three games and hit the way we hit, I think we have a deep run in the playoffs this year for sure,” said Jeremiah Jenkins, sophomore first baseman/designated hitter.
“It just means a lot more that we’re in the tournament. It’s definitely a lot more exciting,” said Quinn McDaniel, junior infielder.
“What takes the cake is watching these guys dogpile the mound and just see that their hard work and dedication came to something more than just ‘hey, you’re doing a great job.’ It came to the biggest win possible,” said Nick Derba, head coach.
The tables turned in Maine’s 6-1 America East Championship win over Binghamton in New York.
“They won it here last year, so it was kind of a little bit like revenge winning it over there. It was nice. It was really nice,” said Marquez.
“I think it was awesome, especially because Binghamton won it here last year. We go out and get to play them in the championship game at their home field with their home fans and kind of give it to them,” said McDaniel.
“It’s kind of surreal. We talk about it for a long time. You talk about it since you come to college. When it actually happens, you don’t know what to expect. It’s still hard to describe what happened,” said Rainess.
“Oh man, it’s awesome. Knowing what happened last year, and then being able to come back this year and win the tournament is a great feeling. The guys played together as a team. It was a lot of fun. I had a great time there. It was awesome,” said Jenkins.
“We went through the best teams to get to the conference championship. I thought Lowell was always a dangerous team. They proved to be very dangerous and swung the bats well against us. I think us going through Binghamton and UMBC and UMass Lowell, that’s the way it should be. I’m happy that that’s the way it worked out,” said Derba.
The Black Bears used a power surge to win the conference title. Maine hit four home runs in the victory.
“Oh man, it feels amazing. It feels like it was just what was meant to happen to end the season. To see it happen like that makes it that much more special for sure,” said Marquez.
“You know what we do. It’s just another day for us. Pitchers do their job. We’ll take care of the business on the back side. That’s all that happens,” said Rainess.
“If there’s a better game to start hitting home runs, then I would say it’s the championship game. That felt pretty good to get out to that early lead. Rainess hit a home run, Quinn, myself, and Marquez (too). It was just great watching the offense come together as one,” said Jenkins.
They paired power with pitching.
“Yeah, it felt really good. (The home runs) kind of sealed the deal and gave us some insurance. (There were) crazy pitching performances. (Caleb Leys and Gianni Gambardella) showed up and shoved it down the opponents’ throats. It kind of just allowed us to go out there and score a few runs, and we got the wins,” said McDaniel.
“In the last few weeks, you could see our staff really molding into what we thought they were going to be. Sure as it goes, they stepped up and won three games for us,” said Derba.
Making history by winning the America East Tournament and going to NCAA Regionals is starting to sink in for the Black Bears.
“It’s definitely something really special. It’s something that we’re going to remember for the rest of our lives. It’s something that’s going to be in the record books forever, so it’s definitely something really cool to look back on and think about, for sure,” said Marquez.
“There’s a little picture in the clubhouse of the last team that won it with the championship banner. They’re all holding up the one and everything. Hopefully for a long time people can walk by our championship banner now and us holding up the one. Maybe we’ll win it again next year. Who knows?” said Rainess.
“When you get that first win, it’s a good feeling, especially since it’s been since 2011. I was in third grade. That’s a fun time for me, for sure, winning this tournament,” said Jenkins.
“I think it’s pretty special. It kind of comes down to the group we have here and the work we’ve put in all year and trust in each other,” said McDaniel.
“I’m happy. I feel like it’s long overdue as far as my own personal travels and watching some of our guys go. Everything’s happened for a reason. We’re here where we are because of the struggles we’ve had before,” said Derba.
Now, there’s a new goal: making it to the Super Regionals and College World Series.
“The sky’s the limit. We had this goal to win the conference, and now that we did it, it’s not over. It’s on to the next step, and hopefully we can get it done,” said Marquez.
“We have a pretty good lineup and pitching staff. No one wants to play us in a regional. Anything could happen, and if someone sees us in the super regional, don’t count anything out,” said Rainess.
The CWS is the sport’s biggest stage.
“If we went to Omaha, I might actually lose my mind. I’m not even going to lie. That would be awesome. Playing in front of those fans against all these great teams and players would be a good experience, for sure. It would be tons of fun. I would have a great time,” said Jenkins.
“I’m excited. We’re going to go out there and play at the regional, and anything can happen. It’s baseball,” said McDaniel.
Maine opens Regional play in Coral Gables, Fla. against the No. 9 Miami Hurricanes.
Louisiana and Texas join the Black Bears and Canes in the double-elimination regional.
You can catch the game on ESPN+ on Friday at 7 p.m.
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