ORONO, Maine — It didn’t take veteran Stony Brook University baseball coach Matt Senk long to realize the University of Maine had a talented hitter in Hernen Sardinas.
“From day one when he stepped into the box as a freshman at our place and took his first swing, I knew that kid was special,” Senk said. “No doubt about it. He is a big-time hitter.”
Sardinas goes into Wednesday’s 11 a.m. America East tournament opener against the University of Massachusetts Lowell leading the Black Bears in several offensive categories including hits (57), home runs (11), runs batted in (32), total bases (107), slugging percentage (.566), at-bats (189) and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) at .925.
The junior, who has played in all 47 games, also leads America East in home runs and is third in slugging percentage. He is tied for second on the team with 33 runs scored.
Sardinas’ .302 batting average is second on the team behind sophomore Joe Bramanti. He has 15 multiple-hit games.
“He’s our best offensive player right now. As he goes, we go. We score runs when he gets on base,” UMaine coach Nick Derba said.
Sardinas got off to a slow start this season, batting .150 with two RBIs through 11 games. Since then, he is hitting .342 with 11 homers and 30 RBIs.
“I’ve just been trying to stay consistent,” Sardinas said. “I started off a little slow and had to find my rhythm and I guess I found it.”
He admitted that his sluggish start was frustrating.
“But I stuck to my approach, got back into the [batting] cages and it all worked out.”
It isn’t common to find the leading home run hitter in the leadoff spot. Sardinas had batted in the middle of the lineup, but UMaine coach Nick Derba wanted to get him as many at-bats as possible.
The left-handed-hitting Sardinas has adapted nicely to the role.
“It requires a little more focus since you’re the first one up there,” he said, noting that he sees more fastballs early in counts.
Sardinas, a career .289 hitter, said he has become a more disciplined hitter over his three seasons. The 2017 America East All-Rookie choice was an all-conference second-team pick last year (.308, 7 HR, 37 RBI) and leading UMaine in hits (66) and doubles (17).
He has improved his plate discipline by being more selective. He has struck out just 24 times.
“He’s tough to pitch to,” Binghamton coach Tim Sinicki said. “He carries himself like a hitter. He’s confident. His whole game in the [batter’s] box is real impressive. In the end, you hope you can hold him to a single.”
Sardinas said he has been pleased with his 11 homers, but stressed that his goals are team goals.
“At the end of the day, it’s a team game and we’re trying to achieve our goal of winning a conference [tournament] championship,” Sardinas said.
“He sets the tone. He’s an awesome leadoff hitter,” UMaine pitcher Justin Courtney of Bangor said. “He has a bunch of power and when he gets going, our offense gets going.”
Derba said Sardinas has always been a pure hitter, something he discovered when he was recruiting him at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami.
Sardinas has also been valuable defensively. He played first base earlier in his career at UMaine but is now the right fielder. He has handled 98 chances without committing an error this season and he has three assists.
“Right field is a little boring sometimes but I’ll play wherever they want me to. It doesn’t really matter,” Sardinas said.
This summer, Sardinas will play in the prestigious Cape Cod League. He saw limited duty there last year, going 4-for-13 (.308) in three games for the Brewster Whitecaps.
“It was a good experience. There’s a lot of talent. You’ve got the best [college-aged] players in the country. It was fun,” said Sardinas, who is eligible for the Major League draft this year.
“I try not to get too involved in that stuff. I’m just focusing on what’s in front of me right now,” he said.
Directly in front of Sardinas and the Black Bears is the America East tournament, the winner of which earns an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.