Snow in the Northeast has already caused cancellation of one University of Southern Maine baseball game and two scheduled for this weekend are also in jeopardy.
But the Huskies are sure to be playing by March 14 when they hit Florida and they’re itching to get started and take care of some unfinished business.
“We kind of have cabin fever,” sophomore shortstop Sam Dexter said. “We’re excited and I think we’re ready to go.”
Dexter is one of seven returning starters for the Huskies, who also bring back the bulk of their pitching staff. Last season, they set a school record for wins (46) and lost in the Division III national championship game. The goal this year is to win that national title.
“Especially after being so close last year,” senior center fielder Forrest Chadwick said. “We’ve been saying that since we ended last year.”
Dexter, a Messalonskee High School graduate, and Chadwick, a Gardiner grad, are two central Mainers who contribute to the team along with pitchers Shyler Scates, an Erskine grad, and senior Nate Veilleux, a Messalonskee graduate.
Chadwick and Dexter are both coming off injuries but are expected to be ready. Chadwick tore his quadriceps, running bases during the regional tournament but gutted it out the rest of the way.
“I sat out one game,” he said. “After that I played every game until the championship. I wasn’t going to sit out because of a little injury.”
Chadwick aggravated the injury shortly after reporting to the Lakeshore Chinooks of the Northwoods League in Wisconsin last June.
“I never really gave it time to heal,” he said. “I played three games and decided to shut it down and come home.”
Interest in Chadwick from major league scouts subsided after his injury, but he’s ready to go now and hopes to rekindle that interest this season.
“I’m mainly focused on the season,” he said. “Our goal is the national championship. (But) I’d love to keep playing after college.”
Southern Maine coach Ed Flaherty expects Chadwick to play center this year, likely hit third in the lineup and serve as the team’s closer. Last season, he batted .380, with eight home runs, 44 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. He also recorded an earned run average of 1.08 with four saves.
“He’s as talented as we’ve had at this school,” Flaherty said.
The USM coach would like to see Chadwick become a little more aggressive on the basepaths and at the plate.
“You can always get better,” Chadwick said. “I’ll definitely steal more bases.”
Dexter broke into college baseball last year with high expectations and exceeded them. Batting in the leadoff spot, he hit a school record 23 doubles, drove in 36 runs and batted .335. He was an All Little East Conference and All New England first team selection at shortstop and was recently selected to the second team D3baseball.com All-American squad.
“He’s a talented kid, a gamer,” Flaherty said. “He can make all the plays and make them look easy.”
Dexter is almost completely recovered from hip surgery he underwent in October to repair a torn labrum, but he’ll be limited in the first few games of spring, Flaherty said.
“Last summer I injured it in upstate New York,” said Dexter, who finished out the season. “It’s a common baseball injury, just (from) overworking.”
Flaherty likes Dexter’s aggressiveness, even in the leadoff spot.
“Hitting pretty much involves getting a pitch to hit,” Dexter said. “I swung at the first pitch in the World Series.”
Scates progressed from a spot starter/relief pitcher to a weekday starter to eventually starting two games in the World Series. His 0.90 walks per nine innings last season was the lowest in school history. Flaherty sees the 6-foot-4 Scates as being second or third in the rotation.
“He had a great first year,” the USM coach said. “He’s starting to get it up there, he’s 85 miles an hour now. That height is starting to pay off a little.”
Scates issued just five walks in 50 innings last season and posted a record of 5-1 with 3.96 ERA.
“He’s a strike-throwing machine,” Flaherty said.
Scates has been working on pitch location and said it’s starting to pay off.
“I’m more comfortable with (what) they want me to throw,” he said. “Now they kind of want me to go inside and attack.”
Veilleux saw middle relief action last season, finishing with a 4.91 ERA. His role is likely to remain the same this season but the senior right-hander’s value extends beyond the playing field.
“If I had captains, he’d be the captain,” Flaherty said. “He’s the pulse of our team even though he doesn’t play much.”
The Huskies were a unanimous preseason pick to win the Little East Conference. Among their returning players are pitchers Logan Carman, a first-team preseason All American and Chris Bernard, a second team selection.
Flaherty said preseason poll voters often “think you’re a little better than you are,” but doesn’t quibble with the vote.
“I suppose rightfully so the expectations are high. We played well last year.”