Maybe sometime this season, a pitcher will try to challenge Sam Dexter. There might be a pitcher out there who sees the University of Southern Maine shortstop step into the batter’s box, and something inside him will swell up with courage, bravado, or confidence. This pitcher will decide that he’s the one who will throw a fastball past Dexter, and he’ll reach back and bring the heat with everything he’s got.

This pitcher will probably see what most others have seen: A line drive to the gap and Dexter cruising into second base — maybe third.

Chances are opponents are going to continue pitching Dexter the exact same way they do now — carefully. They don’t need to know he’s on the preseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award, given annually by USA Baseball to the nation’s top amateur baseball player.

“I hit second or third in the order. I get pitched like that, anyway. I usually see a lot of breaking balls,” Dexter said via phone from Florida, where the Huskies are playing this week.

A senior and Messalonskee High School graduate, Dexter entered the season already known as one of the best Division III college baseball players in the country, coming off a junior season in which he was a first team All-American and d3baseball.com’s National Player of the Year. As the only Division III athlete on the 50-player Golden Spikes watch list — alongside players from traditional Division I powers such as Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida and Vanderbilt — Dexter is among the top players in the country, period.

“It was a big surprise. I didn’t know there’s a list for that award in the preseason,” Dexter said.

“I don’t know how many times they put a Division III guy on the ballot for this, but if there’s a guy that I’ve ever coached (who deserves it), Sam’s the best,” USM coach Ed Flaherty told d3baseball.com. “He’s a kid who could, I think play at mid-level Division I, maybe even high-level; that’s what his talent is. Not only that, he’s just a tremendous young man and works at his game every single day of his life.”

Flaherty has called Dexter a “once in 30 years player,” and that’s not hyperbole. Dexter has a chance to leave USM with many of the Huskies’ career hitting records. Dexter earned one record on Thursday when he doubled in a 7-4 win over Wisconsin Osh-Kosh. The double was the 64th of Dexter’s career, passing Bob Prince for the all-time mark. Before the season is over, Dexter could lead the Huskies in games played, at bats, runs scored, hits, total bases and assists.

In 160 career games, Dexter has a .386 batting average, with a .439 on base percentage. Dexter has 256 hits, 17 shy of Tyler Delorme’s team record. Dexter has 169 runs, 120 runs batted in and 14 home runs.

To Dexter, though, this final season of college baseball is not about chasing school records.

“I usually try not to think of that stuff. The goal is to win the last game,” Dexter said, referring to the Division III World Series. Dexter was a freshman on USM’s national runner-up team in 2013, and went back to the World Series with the Huskies in 2014.

Last season was Dexter’s best individually at USM, but the team was eliminated in the New England regional. That’s what Dexter remembers the most. Not his .441 batting average, 82 hits or 52 runs scored, and not being named the Little East Player of the Year or National Player of the Year.

“It’s nice,” Dexter said of the accolades, “but in the big picture, it doesn’t help your game.”

USM is ranked fourth in the nation in d3baseball.com’s latest poll and received three first place votes. That poll was released before the Huskies lost a pair of games on Monday. Even so, USM shouldn’t fall much — if at all — when the next top 25 is released. The Huskies rebounded with a 5-2 win over No. 19 Wisconsin-Stevens Point on Wednesday, and followed that with Thursday’s win over Wisconsin-Osh Kosh to improve to 6-2. USM continues its Florida trip with a game against No. 8 Wisconsin-Whitewater on Friday and No. 20 St. Thomas on Saturday.

Dexter went 4 for 4 in the win over Stevens Point, driving in a run. On Thursday, Dexter hit his record-breaking double to lead off the bottom of the third inning, and he scored when Paul McDonough followed with a single to left field. Dexter went 2 for 3 with two runs and an RBI in the game. On the season, Dexter is hitting .444 with 10 runs and seven runs batted in. When asked about his good start, Dexter made it about the team.

“We got off to a great start. I’d say this is one of the most competitive group of guys I’ve been around. This is a very unselfish environment,” Dexter said.

Another reason why this season is special for Dexter is the chance to play alongside his younger brother, Jake Dexter, a freshman infielder/pitcher. The Dexter brothers were middle infield partners on Messalonskee’s Class A state championship team in 2012. Jake has played in all eight games for the Huskies, starting six at second base alongside Sam at shortstop.

“Not many college baseball players get to play with their brother. It’s a great opportunity,” Dexter said.

For Dexter, the future is another potential great opportunity. Professional scouts have seen him play, not just for USM but for the Sanford Mainers in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Dexter hit .324 for the Mainers last summer and earned the league’s 10th player award. Dexter also played in five games for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod Baseball League last summer before returning to Sanford. There’s a chance Dexter could here his name when Major League Baseball hold its draft in June. If not drafted, Dexter could sign as a minor league free agent or play in an independent league. Again, like individual stats and awards, it’s not something Dexter spends too much time thinking about.

“It’s all kind of based on this year’s games. It’s one of those things, you’ve got to play it out. You can’t let it dominate your thoughts. I just want to help the team win,” Dexter said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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