HARWICH, Mass. — For all the talk of playing one game at a time, the University of Southern Maine baseball players always had one final destination in mind this year: Appleton, Wisconsin.
That’s where the Huskies’ 2013 season ended in the NCAA Division III championship game, a 4-1 loss to Oregon’s Linfield College. Ever since that day, their goal has been to return.
Sunday afternoon, they made the reservation.
With senior left-hander Logan Carman at the top of his game and hobbled designated hitter Forrest Chadwick driving in four runs, USM overwhelmed Endicott 11-1 in the New England Regional championship game at sunny Whitehouse Field. That victory earned USM a spot in the double-elimination Division III World Series, where the Huskies will play Wisconsin-Whitewater at 8:45 p.m. Friday.
This will be USM’s eighth appearance in the World Series, and the third time they’ve gone in back-to-back years. The Huskies also made it in 1989, 1991, 1992, 1997, 2000 and 2001, and won national championships in 1991 and 1997.
“This means a lot to us,’’ said Chadwick, a senior from Gardiner. “Anything less than going back would have been a disappointment.’’
The Huskies (35-13) trailed 1-0 before they scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth, then put the game away with a nine-run eighth, highlighted by Chadwick’s three-run homer.
“They’re very talented, well-coached, just a great program,’’ said Endicott Coach Bryan Haley. “They have been for years and years and I think they will continue to be. They do things the right way.’’
Ed Flaherty, in his 29th season as USM coach, said his players had high goals all season.
“I don’t think our team’s played as well as it’s capable all year long,’’ he said. “We’ve played good. We’ve got a senior-laden lineup and I think their expectations all along were to go back to Appleton. That’s a big weight to carry, a big goal. That’s high expectations.
“Now we’ve got it. I hope the weight will drop and we can go win a national championship.’’
The Huskies will have that chance because of big efforts from some of their star players.
Carman didn’t pitch until late in the regular season because of left shoulder irritation. The senior lefty gave up a run in the first, then shut the Gulls down until he was pulled with one out to go. He struck out five, walked two and hit two batters.
Chadwick tore his left quadricep in the Little East Conference tournament and is slowed to a crawl. And yet he drove in four runs with three hits, including a moonshot home run to right field that gave the Huskies a final push to Wisconsin.
Sophomore shortstop Sam Dexter had four hits, scored twice and drove in a run. Freshman second baseman Paul McDonough drove in two runs in the eighth inning.
Still, the Gulls (34-16) had the early advantage They got a run in the first inning on an RBI single by Tad Gold, and sophomore pitcher J.J. Branch kept the Huskies off balance.
USM played pretty good defense to keep it close. Carman snared a line drive back at him and turned it into a double play in the second.
First baseman John Carey, a senior from South Portland, made the game’s biggest play in the top of the sixth.
Gold led off with a double and Matt Paola followed with a hard grounder to first. Carey snagged it, then threw to third, where Troy Thibodeau put the tag on a sliding Gold. In a bang-bang play, Gold was called out.
Haley argued, but afterward said, “He was out. In the end, the umpire calls him out, he’s out. I think Carey made an extremely veteran play to attack that ball and go to third with it. It was a huge play.’’
Flaherty wasn’t so sure it was the right play at first.
“When he first threw it, I said, ‘Uh-oh,’ ’’ said Flaherty. “But he threw it right on the money and we got a good call.’’
Carey never hesitated.
“I was playing in, in case he was going to bunt,’’ said Carey. “I figured if he hit it hard, (Gold) might break for third. He ended up hitting it right at me and I fired it over there as best I could.’’
Carman said he thought the ball was going into right field, then saw Carey grab it. “As soon as he did, I knew he would make the play,’’ said Carman.
It loomed large, because USM came back with two runs in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Dexter – in the lead-off spot for the first time in the tournament – and McDonough hit back-to-back singles to left. Chadwick, a left-handed hitter, then drove the ball to the fence in right for an RBI single. Matt Verrier followed with an infield single to second, with McDonough scoring the go-ahead run.
“I felt the pressure on our team right from the third to the fifth,’’ said Flaherty. “Once we got the two-spot in the sixth, we get the lead, our energy starts to rise. Those two runs were huge, especially late in the game, and they got a little tighter.’’
USM settled the issue in the eighth, sending 14 batters to the plate. Nick DiBiase, Dexter and McDonough had consecutive singles off Branch, with DiBiase scoring on McDonough’s single. Then Chadwick whacked an 0-2 pitch over the right-field fence, and it was 6-1. Before the inning ended, Thibodeau, Dexter and McDonough each had run-scoring singles.
“We’re still a work in progress going into this next one,’’ said Verrier. “We can still get better.’’
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: