No Black Bear in the history of University of Maine baseball, including former King Philip Regional High great Joey Johnson, who went on to a near decades-long career in MLB, has recorded more strikeouts in a single season than North Attleboro’s Nick Sinacola.
The junior right-handed pitcher moved into the No. 1 spot on the Black Bears’ single-season record for strikeouts with 139, the most of any NCAA Division I pitcher.
Along with Sinacola’s nine wins on the mound for the Black Bears, Sinacola has been named to the NCAA Division I All-America baseball team, one of only seven pitchers selected, and 17 players chosen overall.
Sinacola’s accolade is in addition to being named the America East Conference Pitcher of the Year and a First Team All-Star selection.
Sinacola sported a 9-3 record on the mound for the Black Bears. His strikeout rate per nine innings (at 15.77) is the second best in the nation as he shattered Maine’s previous single-season best of 108 K’s by Larry Thomas 30 years ago in 1991.
“That’s what we expect out of the guy, he’s an ace, a draftable guy,” University of Maine head coach Nick Derba said of his Sinacola and his achievements. “That’s what pros do, they come out and dominate. We expect a win out of him every time that he touches the ball.”
Opponents hit just .208 off of Sinacola, who allowed two earned runs or less in 10 of his 12 starts this season.
The hard-throwing right-hander struck out 10 batters or more in 11 of his dozen trips to the mound.
Sinacola is a product of coach Mike Hart’s 2018 MIAA State Division 2 Championship team at North Attleboro High, of which his batterymate was NCAA Division 3 World Series participant Zach DeMattio, now with the Wheaton College Lyons.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Sinacola owns a fastball in the mid-90’s along with a slider, split-finger changeup and curve ball that he uses to get outs. He is expected to be an MLB Draft selection when the process begins July 11.
“I’m confident in all three of my pitches now, that I can get them over for strikes,” Sinacola said, citing his slider as his go-to pitch for outs.
“I got much better with my mechanics and got much stronger physically,” Sinacola said. “I’ve gotten smarter in terms of the baseball aspect. I just need to be aggressive with all of the hitters that I face.”
The former Red Rocketeer posted a 2.04 ERA for Maine, which was the 19th best among the 286 NCAA Divion I eligible pitchers.
Sinacola only has to think back a few years to his senior season when the Rocketeers won 22 games, being groomed for collegiate baseball.
“Coach Hart has been a great help in my career,” Sincola said. “It really does seem like yesterday we were up in Lowell.”
Sinacola is grateful for the work of his Rocketeer infield of Nick Raneri at third base, Shawn Watters at shortstop, Ryan Warren at second base and Aidan Harding at first base in making him more effective.
Sinacola also often he turned his shoulder to the outfield to see Nate Pearce in center field, Brendan McHugh in left field and whomever was filling in at right field making catches to dodge danger.
“They were a group of guys who had some ability, loved the game and loved playing for each other,” Hart said.
Sinacola totaled 11 strikeouts and pitched seven innings for Maine in a 4-2 win over Stony Brook in the America East Tournament. Sinacola scattered five hits and one run as the Black Bears beat the No. 1 seed, walking just two batters.
Through the course of this season for the Black Bears, Sinacola surrendered just 17 extra-base hits among the 59 he allowed in 79 1/3 innings of work. Sinacola had a better than 5-1 ratio in strikeouts (139) to walks (23).
“Who else did what he did?” Derba asked on the Black Bears’ website. “He gets a lot of swings and misses. His strikeout numbers per nine innings would be really good for a lockdown closer who pitches just one inning and here Nick is pitching at least seven innings every game. For a starter to have numbers like that is crazy.”
Maine finished 22-22 this season, losing to New Jersey Tech and Stony Brook in the double-elimination America East Tournament after Sinacola pitched the Bears to victory in the opening game of the series on Long Island.
Derba indicated that Sinacola’s success in getting his slider and split-finger pitch over the plate for strikes and swings and misses makes his fastball more effective.
“He’s such a hard worker too, the type of person that every team wants in the clubhouse.”
Sinacola became just the fourth Black Bear to become a First Team All-America selection, joining Mark Sweeney (1991), Andy Hartung (1990) and Rick Bernardo (1986). Sinacola is the first University of Maine All American since Justin Courtney made the All-Rookie Team in 2015.
The fact that Sinacola blossomed this season, after spending the summer of 2020 with the Brockton Rox, is not surprising.
“Absolutely that helped me,” he said. “It gave me a great opportunity to grow with all of the corona virus stuff going on. It was the only opportunity to play.”
Sinacola is heading to the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer, suiting up for Harwich.
Sinacola’s first two seasons in Orono were not very eye-popping. He went 0-1 with a 6.81 ERA as a freshman in 19 appearances, three of which were starts. As a sophomore, Sinacola had an 0-4 mark with a 5.57 ERA in the 13-game abbreviated COVID-19 season of 2020.
Sinacola struck out 35 batters in 35 2/3 innings as a rookie and then notched 23 K’s in 21 innings during the abbreviated 2020 season.
Johnson, incidentally, pitched at Maine in the early 1980’s and was inducted into the Black Bears Hall of Fame in 2019. Johnson heled the Bears compete in three NCAA Division I World Series, being named the NCAA Regional MVP in 1981. Johnson was selected in the second round of the 1982 MLB Draft by Atlanta, the 37th player taken overall. He pitched three MLB seasons for the Braves and Toronto and spent seven seasons in the minor leagues.
“We’ll see what happens during the summer season before I starting thinking about going pro,” Sinacola said. “I’m focusing on the Cape for now and go from there.”
For Sinacola, the habits of getting a first pitch over the plate for a strike and getting a first out are paramount to success .
“I’ve been working on my slider since I was 14 or 15 and my fastball has been 93-94 (mph),” Sinacola noted. “My goal isn’t to strike people out, it’s to get people out.
“Going into this season, I felt that I had put myself in a good spot, a lot of stuff clicked for me.”