HARWICH Mass. — Sam Dexter’s second home run of the day supported two remarkable pitching performances by Andrew Richards and pulled the University of Southern Maine back from the brink of elimination in the NCAA Division III New England baseball tournament.
USM plays Endicott College for the regional championship today at noon at Whitehouse Field. The winner advances to the NCAA national championship tournament next week in Appleton, Wis.
USM returned to Whitehouse Field needing to win two games to stay alive in the double-elimination tournament. It beat Western New England University, 7-0, in the early afternoon game. About four hours later, USM beat Endicott, 5-2.
Richards, a lanky, 6-foot-4 sophomore righthander, pitched a complete game shutout in the first game, limiting Western New England to five hits. He entered the day’s second game with the bases loaded and no one out in relief of freshman starter Tyler Leavitt.
Richards allowed a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning for Endicott’s first run. The Gulls went up, 2-0, scoring on another sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth. Richards didn’t allow another run over the last three innings. He worked 14 2/3rds innings between the two games.
The start was his first of the season. He had pitched more than 60 innings of relief. Saturday morning at batting practice, he and his teammates got the news he would start after appearing in relief in two earlier games in the tournament.
Designated hitter Forrest Chadwick’s opposite-field, first-inning double scoring two runs helped stake Richards to a five-run lead before he took the mound. Dexter’s long two-run home run in the sixth inning gave USM in its final runs.
Western New England, the 4th-seeded team in the eight-team tournament, didn’t get a runner to third until the ninth inning.
Endicott was 1-8 in NCAA regional tournament games before this week, never reaching the weekend’s championship games. Endicott beat USM Friday in the matchup of the tournament’s two remaining unbeaten teams. The Gulls, winners of the Commonwealth Coast Conference tournament, were in the driver’s seat.
USM has to win three straight games to win this tournament. Endicott, between Saturday and today, only had to win one.
Down, 2-0, USM got a run back in the seventh. Matt Verrier led off with a walk, went to second on a fielder’s choice and scored on Jake Glauser’s two-out single up the middle.
Dexter scored the tying run in the eighth on Sean Grady’s high chopper to third with the bases loaded. The throw to the plate for the force was in the dirt and got away from catcher E.J. Martinez.
Two outfield assists took Endicott runners off the basepaths in the last innings. Glauser, playing center in place of the Chadwick (pulled muscle), and Dexter at short cut down Tad Gold trying to stretch a double into a triple to lead off the eighth.
In the ninth, Troy Thibodeau caught a tailing line drive while facing the sun and doubled off Martinez at second.