HARWICH, Mass. — Going into the season, Ed Flaherty knew this was going to be a different kind of University of Southern Maine baseball team.

The 2015 version was much younger and less potent offensively than most of the teams he’s coached in the past 30 years.

And Friday morning it showed.

USM, the top-seeded team in the NCAA Division III New England Regional tournament, was eliminated Friday after a 4-1 loss to second-seeded Wesleyan University at Whitehouse Field. The Huskies had won the regional the last two years to advance to the NCAA Division III College World Series.

It was only the second time this season the Huskies lost consecutive games. The Huskies, with four sophomores and two freshmen in the starting lineup, had seven singles Friday, none back-to-back. That came after a 10-1 loss to Salem State on Thursday in which USM had just six hits.

“We had just three seniors and a lot of first-year players in the field. Offensively we kind of ran out of gas towards the end of the year,” said Flaherty. “The old Southern Maine teams, when you’ve got older kids, you can pound through a losers’ bracket. And this team really didn’t have that offensive punch that can you get you through there.”

A lot of credit Friday had to go to Wesleyan’s starting pitcher, junior Peter Rantz, who pitched “the game of his life” according to his coach, Mark Woodworth. Over seven innings he allowed just five hits and no walks while striking out two. He kept the ball inside mostly and used a high fastball very effectively.

“It’s just baseball,” said Sam Dexter, the Huskies’ junior shortstop. “You run into top guys in this tournament. There’s really no explanation for not scoring and not hitting.”

Flaherty said it comes down to talent. And while USM had enough to win the Little East Conference and finish with a 32-15 record, there are no weak teams in the regionals.

“Usually it’s better pitching and better defense,” said Flaherty. “You hit some balls in the gap … (leadoff hitter Nick DiBiase) hit a ball into the gap in the first inning and their center fielder ran it down. Middle of the season that could be a double. That’s what happens when you get later in the tournaments.”

Still, Flaherty said he was proud of this team and what it accomplished. “I didn’t expect this at the beginning of the year,” he said.

The Huskies had to feel good with senior Andrew Richards starting. He was the pitcher Flaherty turned to every time the team needed a win this season.

And while he struck out 11 batters, he couldn’t completely shut down the Cardinals.

Wesleyan, which had four seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup, struck quickly, getting three singles and a run in the top of the first. Sam Goodwin-Boyd drove in the run with a two-out lined single to center.

It stayed 1-0 until the seventh, when the Huskies made two errors – a muffed grounder and a dropped throw – that helped the Cardinals score three times.

Richards, the school’s all-time leader in wins (29) and saves (18), threw 126 pitches in his final game for the Huskies.

“The last two years we lost a ton of players and didn’t know what to expect,” said Richards. “Obviously Sam and Paul (McDonough) and all the guys who came back from last year’s team definitely stepped up. We got as far as we did because of their leadership and the youth on this team. And it’s a credit to Coach Flaherty.”

Dexter said the team owed Richards an awful lot as well.

“Without him I don’t know where we’d be,” said Dexter.

USM had chances in the last two innings to make things interesting against senior reliever Sam Elias – the pitcher of the year in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.

The Huskies loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth, but got just one run. Then they put their first two batters on in the ninth, but Elias set down the final three to close out their season.

It was a big win for Wesleyan, which has beaten USM in each of the three NCAA regional playoff games the two have played.

“We beat a great team and a great coach,” said Woodworth. “We’ve been (ranked) one and two (in New England) all year, really two, behind them. And I think we’ve been all kind of looking at this game at some point to play them in the regional to see how good we are.

“And I think our guys came out to play like that, to show everyone that we are pretty good.”

 


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