UMaine’s Quinn McDaniel, left, is greeted by teammate Connor Goodman after McDaniel homered in the America East championship Saturday in Binghamton, N.Y. The Black Bears will play in the NCAA tournament this weekend for the first time in 12 years. Photo courtesy of UMaine athletics

It wasn’t just because they won the America East Conference championship that University of Maine baseball players piled on top of each other after Saturday’s game.

It was because of the years that came before. The lean years and the crushing losses. The Black Bears put that all behind them as they defeated host Binghamton University 6-1 and earned their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2011.

“I’ve been here to see it through for three years, and it kind of shows how special our group is and the time we put in,” said junior second baseman Quinn McDaniel, an Eliot native and Marshwood High graduate. “I think it just means a lot more to me, being from the state of Maine and growing up here, and coming to the program when it wasn’t at its best and kind of seeing it full circle.

“To get where we’re at now, it’s been pretty special.”

Maine (32-19) is headed to Coral Gables, Florida, for an NCAA regional matchup Friday with the University of Miami (40-19), the host of the regional and the No. 9 team in the country. Texas and Louisiana are also playing in the double-elimination regional, and the team that wins the bracket will go to a super regional round and have a chance to play in the College World Series.

The Black Bears have won their NCAA regional seven times, the last in 1986. The Maine players know the odds of winning an eighth in Coral Gables are against them, but they don’t see themselves being an easy out.


“We think we have the team to really make some noise in the regional,” said senior designated hitter Connor Goodman. “We’re not done. I really think we can do some good things in the regional and shock some people.”

It’s a far cry from the recent past. Only three seasons ago Maine was 1-12 before the COVID-19 outbreak ended the season. Even though fortunes brightened for the Black Bears over the next two years, they ended with disappointment. Maine went 1-2 in the America East tournament in 2021, and then fell flat last season as the No. 1 seed with losses in its first two tournament games in Orono.

“From the get-go, we had the team to go win the conference,” Goodman said. “That’s why our exit hurt so much. We had the pieces not only to win the conference, but win a regional and make it to a super (regional).”

Led by the conference’s top scoring offense, Maine reclaimed the No. 1 seed in the America East tourney. This time, despite having to travel to upstate New York for the games, there was no letdown. The Black Bears slugged their way to a wild 10-7 victory over UMass Lowell, and then rode strong pitching performances from Caleb Leys and Gianni Gambardella to a 3-1 win over UMBC and then the title-clinching victory over Binghamton.

“Last year was heartbreaking, and even freshman year, we were right there in it,” McDaniel said. “To get it done, it feels really good.”

Winning the conference tournament has been a goal for Maine since the start of the season. But as Coach Nick Derba put it, the accomplishment ran even deeper than that.


“I know a lot of our players felt like they were rewarded,” he said. “These guys turned the program around.”

The Black Bears drew the Hurricanes on Monday in the NCAA selection show.

Goodman, a Miami native who initially dreamed of playing for the ’Canes while attending Miami Country Day School, was thrilled.

“Miami came up on that screen, and under my breath I said ‘Come on, put Maine up there,’” he said. “To be able to come home in such a huge moment, a huge way … with ‘Maine’ across my chest, I’m so proud.”

The Black Bears, in a stark change from the regular season, will be an underdog. That’s fine with them.

“We don’t have anything to lose. … It’s nothing but a great opportunity,” McDaniel said. “It’s something we’ve done well all year, playing without fear.”


Maine has reason for confidence. The Black Bears have had a potent lineup all season, led by Jake Rainess (.317, 16 home runs, 48 RBI), Goodman (.320, 47 RBI), McDaniel (.355, 16 homers, 44 RBI) and Jeremiah Jenkins, who leads the team with a .378 average, 20 home runs and 75 RBI.

“(McDaniel and Jenkins) have acted like leaders as far as how they carry themselves and approach their day-in, day-out work,” Derba said. “What they did this season is really bonkers, video game-type stuff.”

There’s also a pitching staff anchored by Gambardella (6-3, 2.91 ERA), Leys (5-0, 4.30), Colin Fitzgerald (6-1, 4.48) and South Portland’s Noah Lewis (7-1, 4.41), which has improved as the season has gone on and played a key role in breaking new ground.

“There’s excitement and some sense of contentment,” Derba said.  “But the season’s not over for us. We want to play more baseball. We’re certainly in it to win it.”

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