APPLETON, Wis. — The pitcher who was injured, written off and relegated to working innings in games that had already been won or lost, continued his revival Sunday. Ryan Yates pitched the University of Southern Maine into another day of the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship.
The fifth-year senior limited Webster (Mo.) University to four hits over six innings in the 7-2 victory. He handed the ball to Andrew Richards after walking the leadoff batter in the seventh inning. Richards pitched three innings of shutout relief.
“I didn’t have any butterflies. I wasn’t nervous,” said Yates. “I knew I had Richards waiting to come in and take over.”
Yates was being modest. Coach Ed Flaherty had to use nine pitchers in relief of the injured Logan Carman, who started. Linfield College beat USM, 10-1 on Saturday. The burden to say alive in the tournament was on Yates’ shoulders.
He lost one year to injury and worked through three other seasons of various shoulder and arm ailments and much lowered expectations. Flaherty loved Yates perseverance but didn’t think the home-schooled pitcher from the Western Maine town of Norway could be productive.
Yates convinced Flaherty with a strong performance on the spring trip to Florida and eventually won the No. 2 spot in the starting rotation behind Carman. Yates is 7-1. If USM gets to Tuesday’s national championship game, Yates’ could walk to the mound again for a few innings.
Not a power pitcher, Yates needs to keep the ball down and needs to throw his curve for consistent strikes. Sunday he mixed his pitches well and kept his pitches down for the most part.
With a 2-0 lead, Yates gave up consecutive singles in the fifth to Webster’s No. 8 and No. 9 hitters Ian Foege and Ryan Hall. Flaherty called for time and walked to the mound. The infielders joined the conference. Flaherty expected a sacrifice bunt by Webster and set up his defense.
In the outfield bullpen, Richards thought he got the signal to come in and trotted to the mound. Flaherty looked up when Richard approached second base. The head coach had not signaled for a reliever.
“Richards just wants to pitch,” said Flaherty. “He had to make a U-turn.”
Cody Stevenson did bunt. Second baseman Anthony Pisani was a second late covering first. Yates fielded the bunt cleanly but hesitated, waiting for Pisani to set himself on first. Yates’s throw to Pisani was wide. Two runs scored, tying the game.
Yates steadied himself and retired the side. Minutes later John Carey put USM ahead for good with a line-driver homer to left. Tucker White followed with a double, Forrest Chadwick, a Gardiner graduate, and Chris Bernard worked walks off starter Cody Hafeli and suddenly the bases were loaded. Matt Verrier brought home a second run with a sacrifice fly. Pisani singled, scoring Chadwick for a 5-2 lead.
It wasn’t the big hitting breakout Flaherty hoped for but it was enough. Then came a couple of breaks and heads-up fielding.
With bases loaded in the seventh, Corey Lasky hits a hard grounder up the middle. Instead of running through to center it hits the mound and the ball bounces to Pisani who runs several steps to second base for the force and throws to first for the inning-ending double play.
In the eighth, Taylor Stroulp doubles to lead off. Mike Rainbolt bloops a hit into short center. Messalonskee graduate Sam Dexter runs out while White and Chadwick converge from left and center fields. Dexter dives and can’t make the play.
White, knowing Stroulp is watching, pretends he makes the catch, freezing the runner for a moment. White gets the ball on the bounce and fires to Erskine grad Nick Grady at third who tags Stroulp. Another double play ends the inning.
Webster loaded the bases again in the third and again Richards got out of the jam. He has relieved in all three of USM’s games and wasn’t as effective Sunday in keeping runners off base.
But Webster never scored.