GORHAM —The University of Southern Maine baseball team held off elimination for three games, then 12 innings of a fourth.

But in the 13th inning of the final game of the NCAA Division III regional tournament Sunday at Ed Flaherty Field, the Huskies’ luck and season ran out.

Jameson Carey of New England College drove a pitch from Jake Dexter to the right-center gap, scoring Nick Powers in the bottom of the inning to finish a 7-6 victory. Powers reached when his popup was dropped by third baseman Andrew Hillier.

“He was throwing nasty sinkers the whole time and I just figured, ‘step up in the box and meet that at the breaking point,’ and I was just trying to go the other way with it,” said Carey.

The Pilgrims (28-16), a brash unheralded team from Henniker, New Hampshire, were making their first NCAA appearance. USM (37-9), a program steeped in tradition making its 25th tourney appearance under Ed Flaherty, a 34-year coach, was ranked third and fourth in the two Division III national polls.

Tensions boiled over after the game with the teams exchanging several pushes and shoves. Coaches, staff and tournament officials acted quickly to separate players before punches were thrown.

Southern Maine’s Devin Warren, right, slides into third base during the Huskies’ 16-4 win over NEC in the first game Sunday in Gorham. USM lost the second game 7-6 in 13 innings and was eliminated from the NCAA Division III baseball tournament. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

“Timid isn’t a word they know,” said NEC Coach Terry Doyle, who took the job when Chris Shank resigned unexpectedly on the eve of the season. “They’re confident. They’re resilient and they showed me something this weekend, and that was just battling and being locked in.”

USM forced the second game by winning Sunday’s opener against NEC, 16-4. On Saturday the Huskies won two elimination games after losing a first-round game Friday.

“You know, you battle, it’s the journey, not the ending,” Flaherty said. “Only one team wins the World Series so you’re going to lose your last game. They acted like class. The senior class is one of the best I’ve ever had as far as class guys and they battled right to the end.”

The Pilgrims advanced to a best-of-three Super Regional series against UMass-Boston.

The final innings became a duel between relief pitchers. Dexter, a two-time All-American, worked a career-high 6 1/3 innings; sophomore Shaun Cormier of NEC went 7 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. Dexter said he looked to the stands where his mother and aunt were watching for inspiration.

“My mom had breast cancer and my aunt had a brain aneurysm, and I just kept thinking of that, ‘If they can get through that, this is nothing. You’re pitching a ball,'” Dexter said. “They’re both up there healthy as an ox and I was emotional about it, and it gave me more energy.”

In the 11th inning, USM loaded the bases. Cormier escaped when second baseman Anderson Jimenez made the defensive play of the tournament, racing into shallow right and catching Jason Komulainen’s soft liner with a full-out dive for the third out, saving at least two runs.

In the 12th, an NEC two-base error and a single from Hillier put runners on the corners with no outs. But Zach Quintal’s hard liner was right at third baseman Bobby Fulkerson, who caught it and doubled up Devin Warren at third. Dexter’s deep fly to left was caught at the fence.

USM outhit the Pilgrams 18-8 but left 16 runners on base.

NEC went ahead 4-0 in the first inning, aided by a couple of questionable calls. Hillier appeared to catch leadoff hitter Christian Aybar’s line drive and drop it on the transfer but it was ruled no catch. Two batters later an apparent half-swing at a third strike was ruled a check swing. When USM starter Dalton Rice walked in a run and gave up a two-run double to Luis Atiles, his day was done after a third of an inning.

“That’s part of the game. Those are umpire calls,” said Flaherty. “We spotted them four and we got them back.”

USM senior Henry Curran gave up a sacrifice fly but then worked five clean innings.

Southern Maine pitcher Ben Lambert winds up for a pitch during the fifth inning of the first game Sunday. Lambert pitched six innings of no-hit ball. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

That allowed USM to rally, with single runs in the second and the fifth (Sam Troiano home run) and four runs in the sixth to grab a 6-4 lead on a two-run homer by Dylan Hapworth.

NEC retied the game when Carey and Aybar (double) chased Curran with consecutive hits in the seventh. Dexter gave up an RBI single to Jimenez. A run-scoring groundout by Connor Morin tied the game.

In Sunday’s first game, Hillier led a 20-hit offense with a 5-for-6, 6-RBI effort and Ben Lambert pitched six innings of no-hit ball. In the tournament, Hillier was 16 of 25 at the plate.


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