HARWICH, Mass. — On more than one occasion this year, Ed Flaherty said junior shortstop Sam Dexter is the best player he’s coached in his 30 seasons at the University of Southern Maine.

That’s saying a lot.

Dexter, who hails from Oakland and played at Messalonskee High School, was named the Little East Conference player of the year earlier this month. He led the Huskies in batting average (.441), home runs (eight), total bases (133), runs (57) and RBI (44) while hitting 21 doubles and three triples. He was also hit a team-high nine times and tied for the team lead in stolen bases with 11.

As a junior, he’s eligible to be selected in baseball’s amateur draft in early June.

Minutes after the Huskies were eliminated from the NCAA Division III New England Regional tournament on Friday, Dexter said simply, “I expect to be back here next year.”

“Here” meaning with the Huskies. But “here” probably also meaning in the regionals.

“We were a pretty young team,” said Dexter. “And we hope to be back here next year.”

Dexter, who signed a 10-day contract with Wareham of the prestigious Cape Cod League (but could return to play for the Sanford Mainers), is driven to succeed. If he does return for his senior season, the Huskies should be among the New England contenders again.

This is a team that finished the season with 32 wins while carrying just three seniors on the roster, along with 20 sophomores and freshmen. Three freshmen were regularly in the starting lineup.

While the Huskies were disappointed to fall short of the NCAA Division III College World Series – a tournament they played in each of the last two years – just getting to play in the regionals was a big step.

“I was glad they could get here,” said Flaherty. “The juniors will now have had three years of this. There will be six seniors next year. The sophomores and freshman … they get a taste of it. They can watch the level of play, the mistakes that are made that cost you, how to take care of the ball.

“We didn’t take care of the ball (Thursday and Friday). They’ll learn from it. I think we’ll get a little more offensive punch.”

USM also played all season with an injured Paul McDonough of Wells. The sophomore first baseman tore the labrum in his right shoulder during fall baseball and was unable to play second base this year. He could still hit – .340, four home runs, 43 RBI – but a completely healthy McDonough adds another layer to this team.

He will have surgery on the shoulder soon and, while he will miss playing summer ball, should be ready next year.

Yes, USM loses senior pitcher Andrew Richards, the school’s all-time leader in wins and saves. And the Huskies must replace catchers Brendon Joyce and Dylan Morris.

But USM has several pieces in place.

Flaherty looks at freshman outfielder Devin Warren of Smithfield and Messalonskee (there’s that high school again), and sees a budding star. He hit .295 with 24 RBI and made several WebGem-worthy catches during the seasons.

Others who gained valuable experience this year were freshman second baseman Brandon Martins, freshman outfielder Nick Bowie, sophomore outfielder Damon Wallace and sophomore designated hitter Jake Welch.

Then there was junior right fielder Nick DiBiase of Portland (Deering). A part-time starter last year, he took on an expanded role as the leadoff batter and hit .323 with 47 runs scored. Sophomore third baseman Matt Bender hit .294 with 32 RBI.

Junior pitchers Shyler Scates and Tyler Leavitt combined to go 11-3. Scates had a 2.82 ERA and walked only three batters, while striking out 58 in 67 innings. Sophomore Nick George was 4-0.

There’s plenty of returning talent for this team to succeed.

“Andrew is going to be a big loss but that’s how it works,” said McDonough. “Kids will come in and fill roles. Right now we start looking forward to next year. I hope to be back and hopefully do better.”


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