Nick Sinacola has emerged this season as the ace of the pitching staff for the University of Maine. The sophomore is coming off a record-tying 17 strikeouts in a recent game against Maryland Baltimore County. Credit: Tyler Neville / UMaine athletics

Nick Sinacola doesn’t care about stats. The University of Maine redshirt sophomore pitcher just wants to win games.

The right-hander is winning games this spring — while putting up some eye-opening statistics in his 3-0 start.

First, there is his sparkling 1.37 earned run average. But the most dazzling statistic is his 39 strikeouts in only 19 2/3 innings, which translates to two strikeouts per inning.

Sinacola has surrendered just nine hits, seven of them singles, and has walked seven batters. Opponents are hitting a meager .136 against him.

“I have been in the America East for 10 years and the only other pitcher that has been as dominant against us was Sean Newcomb,” said University of Maryland Baltimore County coach Liam Bowen, referring to the former Hartford pitcher who was a first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Angels and is now pitching for Atlanta.

Sincola turned in a record-setting performance last Saturday against UMBC at Mahaney Diamond in Orono. He struck out 16 Retrievers in a 4-1, seven-inning victory that earned him his second America East Pitcher of the Week award.

The 16 strikeouts in seven innings tied a 17-year-old conference mark and fell just one short of the most ever in UMaine’s 139-year program history.

“I have a real good relationship with [catcher] Ryan Turenne and everything was clicking all at once,” Sinacola said. “When everything is working together, it’s fun, for sure.

“I wasn’t aware of how many strikeouts I had. My goal isn’t to strike people out, it’s to get people out,” Sinacola said.

Sinacola’s first two seasons did not come without challenges. He was 0-4 with a 5.57 ERA during UMaine’s COVID-19-abbreviated 13-game season in 2020. He was 0-1 as a freshman with a 6.81 ERA.

“I’ve worked really hard,” Sinacola said.

Sinacola has persevered, working to make the jump from North Attleboro High School in Massachusetts to Division I baseball. Not only did he have to improve his fastball and slider, he needed to develop the mental aspect of pitching.

“I had to learn what to throw in certain situations,” he said.

Having Nick Derba, a former minor-league catcher, as a head coach has certainly helped.

“He knows his stuff. It makes it a lot easier when your coach knows what he’s talking about,” Sinacola said.

At Derba’s suggestion, Sinacola has replaced the changeup he threw in high school with a split-fingered pitch that is his offspeed offering. He is gaining confidence that he can throw it in any situation.

“His slider is very, very good. It is a professional breaking ball. And he throws it for strikes consistently,” Derba said. “His fastball is in the low 90s [mph] and it has good life.”

Derba described Sinacola as a bulldog competitor who wants the ball.

“I am so impressed with the way he has developed himself. He is a much better pitcher than he was a couple years ago,” Bowen said. “It will be fun to follow him the rest of the year. He has a very bright future at the next level.”

The 6-foot-1 Sinacola pitched last summer for the Brockton Rox of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League and said it was a valuable experience.

He played hockey until the eighth grade but said baseball has always been his passion. He could also swing the bat, hitting .415 to finish third in his high school league.

Sinacola said the facilities and coaching staff sold him on attending UMaine.

“It had a great feel to it. And coach Derba and I were on the same page from the get-go,” he said.

Derba knew Sinacola would be the Black Bears’ No. 1 starter this season, but didn’t expect him to put up the kind of numbers he has logged. He said Sinacola needs to establish better command of his fastball and work harder to counter opponents’ base-stealing efforts.

Derba expects Sinacola to get drafted this year.

“I want the ball. But even if I’m not in the game, I want to do something to make a difference,” Sinacola said. “My goal and the team’s goal is to win a [conference] championship. And we have a very good shot this year.”

UMaine is a tight-knit team that appreciates having the chance to play this spring during the continuing pandemic.

“We want to take advantage of it,” Sinacola said.

UMaine (7-4 overall, 2-1 in America East), hosts Binghamton (2-4, 2-4 AE) for doubleheaders at noon Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday.