The University of Maine baseball team's sophomore first baseman Jeremiah Jenkins prepares to swing while in cold weather garb during the 2023 spring season.

The University of Maine baseball team, winner of eight games in a row, is one of the nation’s top offensive clubs.

The Black Bears are currently 26th among 295 Division 1 teams in batting average at .311 and is 27th in runs per game at 8.4. It is 14th in on-base percentage at .428, 35th in homers per game at 1.62 and 49 in stolen bases per game at 1.69.

“I thought we would be tops in America East but I didn’t anticipate us being a top 30 offensive team in the country,” said UMaine head coach Nick Derba, the America East Coach of the Year last season.

“We have had a lot of contributors. That’s huge. Different guys have been getting it done every day,” Derba said.

Leading hitter Quinn McDaniel, a junior second baseman, credited the team’s depth with helping them achieve the feat.

“Hitting is contagious. Once we get going, we all come together and hit as a team,” McDaniel added.

The Black Bears are 15-11 overall and 9-0 in America East, which represents their best conference start since the 1991 team started 13-0 in North Atlantic Conference play. UMaine is hitting .344 in conference play.

They have been prolific at producing multi-run innings and have scored at least three runs in an inning 34 times this season.

UMaine has had 15 innings in which they have scored three runs, 11 in which they have scored four runs, two five-run and six-run frames, three eight-run innings, and an 11-run inning.

“Half of those innings started with a walk or an error,” Derba said.

UMaine has drawn 146 walks for an average of 5.6 per game. The Black Bears have also been hit by a pitch 48 times.

That has played a role in the team’s on-base percentage.

“We have been staying in our [hitting] zone. We’ve cut down on our chase rate [of bad pitches],” said Eliot’s McDaniel, who leads the nation in walks per game at 1.54 and is fourth in the country with his .575 on-base percentage.

Derba said there has been an emphasis this season on reducing strikeouts.

“If you strike out a lot, you aren’t going to play,” Derba said. “The players are more conscious about putting the ball in play so they have been using more of the field.”

UMaine has averaged 8.8 strikeouts per game but just 7 in its nine conference contests.

UMaine currently has seven regulars hitting at least .302, led by McDaniel’s .385 average. He also has eight homers and 24 runs batted in and is second on the team in runs scored with 42.

McDaniel was a first team All-America East selection a year ago when he hit .330.

Sophomore first baseman Jeremiah Jenkins, a second-team selection and an All-Rookie Team choice, is at .380 and leads the team in homers with 11 and runs batted in with 40. He hit .284 with seven homers and 27 RBIs last spring.

Senior designated hitter Connor Goodman (.373-1 homers-28 RBI), junior third baseman Jake Marquez (.318-0-11), graduate student center fielder Dylan McNary (315-6-21) and junior shortstop Jake Rainess (.302-8-23, team-leading 44 runs) are the other regulars over .300.

Lead-off hitter Rainess and No. 2 hitter McDaniel each have 15 stolen bases.

UMaine was the top seed for the America East tournament last season but lost its first two playoff games at home by 9-7 scores.

The pitching was poor but Derba is confident that it won’t be repeated this season.

“Our pitching is starting to come around. I believe our pitching staff is going to be a strength,” said Derba, who received quality starts from South Portland junior Noah Lewis and sophomores Caleb Leys and Colin Fitzgerald in this past weekend’s sweep of Albany.

He was also happy with his bullpen, which tossed 10 ⅓ innings of six-hit, two-run ball in the three triumphs.

“If our starters can do that every weekend, we’re going to be in a really good spot. And the bullpen guys threw real well,” said McDaniel. “They came in and threw strikes and did their jobs. They attacked with their pitches.”

This weekend closer Justin Baeyens, a graduate student transfer, tossed three scoreless relief inning while former Oxford Hills of South Paris star Colton Carson, a junior, came on to pitch out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh with two strikeouts in Sunday’s 4-3 win and also pitched a scoreless eighth.

“The tournament always comes down to pitching,” Derba said. “You can outslug teams during the regular season but not in the tournament.”

League leader UMaine will receive a big test this weekend when it visits second-place Binghamton (17-10 overall, 5-1 in the conference) for a three-game set.