Cam Seymour’s walk-off home run in the Little East championship game clinched an NCAA tournament berth for Southern Maine. Courtesy of USM athletics

GORHAM — Ed Flaherty is in his 36th season as coach at the University of Southern Maine. And at 67, there are times when he thinks about how much longer he’ll remain in coaching.

Then he looks out at the talent on the diamond that bears his name and knows that’s still where he belongs.

The Huskies (31-9) are the top seed in an NCAA Division III regional in Hartford, Connecticut, that begins Thursday, with USM playing Johnson and Wales (13-14) at 11 a.m. It is USM’s 26th appearance in the NCAA tournament and eighth in the last 10 years.

This year’s team is driven by a core group of seniors – many of whom returned to school after the 2020 season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic – and a very intriguing group of freshmen.

Three freshmen stand out: catcher/designated hitter Cam Seymour of Saco and Thornton Academy, second baseman Janek Luksza of South Paris and Oxford Hills and pitcher Bryce Afthim of Windham.

“I enjoy them,” said Flaherty. “And this wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t play a real schedule. This never would have happened if we played just 12, 15 games. You can see the last two weeks, three weeks. That’s when those kids really blossomed.”

Seymour’s two-run, walk-off home run in the ninth inning of the Little East Conference championship game against Eastern Connecticut State gave the Huskies an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. He leads the Huskies with 12 home runs and 50 RBI, batting .331.

Luksza, a shortstop in high school, was named the Most Outstanding Player in the conference tournament after he batted .529 with five RBI in five games. He is hitting .324 overall, with 30 RBI.

USM second baseman Janek Luksza was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Little East tournament. Courtesy of USM athletics

Afthim, used primarily in relief, leads the Huskies in wins, compiling a 9-1 record to go along with a 3.04 ERA, one save and 48 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings. He got the win in relief in the second game of the best-of-three league championship series.

Each hoped to contribute this year, but none knew to what extent.

“Pretty much I just told (Flaherty) I’d do whatever he needed me to do,” said Afthim. “If he needs me to start, I’ll start. If he needed me out of the pen, I’d do it.”

Likewise, Luksza said he was “just trying to do anything to help the team win.”

Flaherty said he saw during fall workouts what the three could do. Because of the lost 2020 season, the NCAA allowed Division III schools 14 extra days of practice in the fall. Flaherty had the team scrimmage every day.

It helped, the trio noted, that they played in the Great Northeast Collegiate Baseball League last summer. Many collegiate summer leagues did not play last year, so the talent level was quite high in the GNCBL.

Bryce Afthim leads the Huskies in wins with a 9-1 record, despite being used primarily as a reliever. Courtesy of USM athletics

“I had told them to get out there and play,” said Flaherty. “That was the perfect level for them. I think it really helped them.”

“It was good playing against kids who already had a couple of years of college experience,” said Afthim. “It was pretty good competition.”

Seymour added, “It gave me a lot of high-quality at-bats against some upper-tier guys and I carried it into this season … Just playing with them all summer brings your game up to another level.”

The three have become fast friends, living together in Hollis (along with several other players), playing video games (MLB the Show and Rocket League), watching baseball games and playing cornhole in the backyard.

“Personally, I knew of those guys, but never really was close to them,” said Luksza. “It’s been great getting to know them. They’re great guys and I love hanging out with both of them.”

Seymour said living together has translated to success on the field.

“When you get to be around guys every day, you get to know them more,” he said. “You pick up things that you wouldn’t notice before. In the game, you might see something, maybe Bryce’s mechanics are off a little or Jan is looking for a sign at second base. You pick that up and just know that these guys are going to step up and make the plays that need to be made.”


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