APPLETON, Wis. – Matt Verrier doesn’t use many words when he speaks. He’s matter-of-fact blunt, just like his home runs.
Verrier’s three-run homer and Tyler Leavitt’s four-hit pitching for the University of Southern Maine turned a tense game into something much different Monday. USM beat Wisconsin-Stevens Point 8-1 at the NCAA Division III baseball championship.
USM is one of three teams remaining in the eight-team double elimination tournament as it moves into its final day Tuesday. The Huskies play Ithaca (N.Y.) College at noon with the winner playing Linfield (Ore.) for the championship. All three teams have one loss.
USM must win two games to win its third national baseball title since 1991.
Verrier had two of USM’s 11 hits but it was his no-doubt-about-it home run high over the left-field fence that silenced the partisan Wisconsin-Stevens Point crowd and capped a five-run fourth inning.
The game had five more innings to go. Wisconsin-Stevens Point had come back from a five-run deficit in its first game of the tournament.
Over the season it had scored 70 percent of its runs after the seventh inning. It was a comeback team.
But this game felt different after Wisconsin-Stevens Point had scored first with an unearned run in the top of the fourth inning and USM quickly erased that lead.
“I didn’t know if we could overcome that blow,” said Wisconsin-Stevens Point Coach Pat Bloom. “We made some mistakes with pitches in the fourth. The big inning has been our Achilles’ heel.”
Shortstop Dan Douglas had two of the four hits Leavitt allowed. He wondered if his team could come back one more time.
“That five-spot (runs) was a big number. (Leavitt) mixed his pitches and made good pitches.” said Douglas.
“He stayed away and then he came with a fastball inside. He kept us off balance.”
Douglas singled on the second pitch of the game off Leavitt (North Andover, Mass.) a 6-foot-2 freshman left-hander. Leavitt caught Douglas about to steal second, picking him off.
“It was a big game, big spot to be in. You have to give him credit today. He beat us,” Douglas said.
USM’s bats beat Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
The Huskies hit .206 in their three previous games in the tournament. They hit just under .300 (11 for 30) on Monday.
Tucker White singled home Sam Dexter with the tying run with one out in the fourth. Forrest Chadwick doubled home White, who slid headfirst, his hand touching the plate before catcher Ryan Schilter slapped the tag on his back.
Chris Bernard was hit by a pitch. Verrier followed with his home run, scoring Chadwick and Bernard.
Suddenly, Leavitt was pitching with a 5-1 lead.
“We needed a performance like this,” said USM Coach Ed Flaherty, mindful that his ace, Logan Carman, is still out with a severe forearm bruise.
“(Leavitt) was throwing like a big leaguer. He knocked out one of the better hitting teams in the country.”
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at email@example.com