HARWICH, Mass. — Resilience is a good quality for any winning team, but the University of Southern Maine baseball team wasn’t expecting to have to prove it so intensely Thursday night in the winners’ bracket game of the NCAA New England Baseball Regional at Whitehouse Field in Harwich.
The Huskies defeated Western New England College 6-5, but it definitely didn’t come easy. Southern Maine advanced to meet the winner of the Endicott/Wheaton game, at 4:30 p.m. today.
The Huskies’ problems started before the game. Star freshman shortstop Sam Dexter was spiked in the abdomen in Wednesday’s game, so when he turned up sick Thursday afternoon, trainers wanted to take no chances. Southern Maine staffers took Dexter to Cape Cod Hospital to be checked out.
Once the game began, the Huskies’ second hitter, center fielder Forrest Chadwick, slammed a double to left field. But sliding into second, Chadwick pulled a quad muscle, and was somewhat hobbled from there on. The solution to both those obstacles was moving Chadwick to first base, first baseman John Carey to second, second baseman Troy Thibodeau to right field, and right fielder Jake Glauser to center. Senior Anthony Pisani took over Dexter’s position as shortstop and leadoff man.
Southern Maine then spotted Western New England College a 5-0 lead over the first five innings before the Huskies’ offense began to connect. When Huskies starter Ryan Yates struggled through five innings, sophomore reliever Andrew Richards came on to toss four scoreless frames and get the win.
“They’re a pretty resilient bunch of kids,” said Southern Maine coach Ed Flaherty. “When we got our all-New England leadoff hitter in the hospital and then Chadwick pulls a muscle in the first inning, you’re up against it. Then they get that 5-0 lead. Luckily we have all versatile guys — most of them could literally play any position. And they can hit. I told them to just keep chipping away.”
Two-out rallies can be disheartening for the team on defense, and WNEC scored its first four runs with two-out rallies in the first, third and fourth frames. The Huskies, meanwhile were touching up Golden Bears starter Trevor Breton for hits in each of the first four stanzas, but couldn’t score.
With two down in the first, WNEC strung together three consecutive singles, with shortstop Kyle McKelvey’s hit driving in the first run. With two outs in the WNEC third, Mike Rubino beat out an infield hit and scored on first baseman Steve Buckley’s long double to center. In the Golden Bears’ fourth, after two outs, they managed to bash out four straight hits against Huskies starter Ryan Yates, with a triple to right from catcher Tim Budd plating one run, and Jeff Schult’s single scoring Budd.
WNEC added to its margin, with one out in the fifth, when shortstop McKelvey clouted a home run just inside the left field foul pole, for a 5-0 lead. Huskies starter Yates was done after five innings, but Richards proved to be quite effective in relief, stifling the Golden Bears over the last four frames.
“It’s always nice knowing we have Richards in the bullpen,” said Flaherty. “This was not his first rodeo — he did the same thing in our conference final. Andrew throws a great sinking fastball, and a kind of slurve, but he’s always low in the strike zone.”
Southern Maine finally got to Breton in the top of the sixth, as the first five batters reached base. Tucker White led off and was hit by a pitch, which became more costly when Nick Grady reached on an error. Huskies DH Chris Bernard lashed a single which scored White. On John Carey’s grounder to third base, WNEC third baseman Rubino tried to catch Grady straying off the base and failed, leaving the bases loaded.
Huskies catcher Matt Verrier singled to left, driving home two runs, and took second on the throw. Breton got one out, but then walked Jake Glauser, which ended his stint. WNEC righthander Mike Lospinuso got out of the inning with two groundouts, but not before Carey scored to close the gap to 5-4.
Southern Maine took the lead with another rally in the top of the seventh. White led off with a single, but was erased on a fielder’s choice. But when Bernard blasted a double to center field, Grady scored all the way from first base with the tying run. After another out, a Verrier fly ball handcuffed the Golden Bears outfield and Bernard sprinted home. The Huskies had their first lead with the unearned run, at 6-5.
Southern Maine chased Lospinuso in the top of the ninth, yet couldn’t pad their lead. White led off and reached on an error. Grady then executed a perfect hit-and-run, rapping a single behind the runner into right field, as White raced to third base. After a popup, Lospinuso was replaced with Kevin Jefferis, who fanned the next two hitters.
Richards set the WNEC batters down in order in the ninth, but not before White had to make a dazzling running catch at the fence on a Buckley blast.
The Huskies 11-hit attack was paced by Bernard and Verrier who had two hits and two rbi apiece. Richards allowed just three hits over his four innings.
“We can’t look too far ahead in this tournament,” said Flaherty. “We just have to play the next game and go from there. We’re just lucky we have so many guys who can play so many positions, and play them well. Now, we just want to hear that our shortstop Sammy Dexter is going to be okay. It seemed like flu symptoms, and we’re hoping that’s all it was.”