APPLETON, Wis. – Andrew Richards said his legs were sore when the championship day of baseball ended. He wouldn’t mention what else was hurt.

The University of Southern Maine lost its bid for a third national baseball title Tuesday. Linfield (Ore.) College beat USM 4-1 in the final game of the NCAA Division III championships at Fox Cities Stadium.

The ending was almost anticlimatic compared to the day’s first game. USM needed to beat Ithaca (N.Y.) College and did, 5-4 in a tense, grinding 13-inning game.

Richards, who had relieved freshman Shyler Scates with no outs in the second inning of the first game and pitched the rest of the way, also started the second game after an hour’s rest.

The thinking was this: With ace Logan Carman still hurting from a severely bruised pitching forearm from the previous weekend’s regional championship game, Coach Ed Flaherty needed to start his best pitcher.

Richards, he said, was still his best after throwing 152 pitches, 103 for strikes, over 12 innings. Carman told Flaherty he could pitch but didn’t know for how long.

If Flaherty started Carman, he couldn’t ask Richards to relieve midway through the game. His arm muscles would have tightened. “We did it backwards,” said Flaherty. “I knew I could bring Carman in to relieve Richards.”

That happened, but too late. Nick Fisher, Linfield’s No. 3 hitter, led off the fourth with a double. With one out, Kramer Lindell singled Fisher to third. Clayton Truex singled home a run. Kyle Chamberlain drove in another with a bunt single.

When Richards hit Michael Hopp, the No. 9 batter, to force in a run, Flaherty was walking to the mound. Richards was finally done and Carman trotted from the bullpen onto the field.

“I’ve never seen a pitching performance like that,” said Scott Brosius, the Linfield coach. “To see a pitcher go 12 innings like he did, take an hour off and come back out to start another game was amazing.”

Richards got the first out of the game, then hit Corey VanDomelen and Nick Fisher on consecutive pitches. Flaherty walked to the mound. Coach and pitcher talked, and Flaherty returned to the dugout. Richards struck out the next batter and got the third out on a lazy fly to right.

USM got its run in the top of the first. Sam Dexter opened with a double down the right- field line, went to third on John Carey’s single and scored on a wild pitch.

The lead wouldn’t hold. Linfield’s four-run fourth gave it new confidence. No one scores two or three runs on Chris Haddeland (15-1), whose ERA was 0.99.

“We knew when we put up the four-spot we gave Chris the cushion he needed,” said left fielder Tim Wilson. His coach wasn’t so sure. Brosius admitted he was counting outs to the end. He had watched the first game.

USM had 15 hits off two Ithaca pitchers. The big one was Chris Bernard’s homer over the left-field fence in the 13th, scoring Forrest Chadwick ahead of him. Except in the celebration, Bernard never touched the plate.

The Ithaca dugout saw it. So did the umpire. The Ithaca coach appealed and Bernard was ruled out. He got credit for a run-scoring triple but had to sweat out the bottom of the inning, hoping Ithaca wouldn’t re-tie the game or win.

Ithaca loaded the bases with one out, but a strikeout and then a fly to right finally ended the game.

 

NOTES: Jeff Mertzel, a Gardiner native living in the Augusta area, umpired his first NCAA Division III national tournament. He was on the regular rotation, drawing USM a few times. He worked the championship game at first base.

Richards was named to the all-tournament team with teammates Tyler Leavitt (pitcher) and Troy Thibodeau (outfield). Haddeland was named the tournament’s outstanding player.

Richards worked 104 innings this season, setting a school record. He pitched 20 innings in the New England regional and 242/3 in the national tournament.

USM and Linfield set a tournament record of sorts for opposing teams from the farthest away. The Linfield campus is about 30 miles east of Portland, Ore. The distance between the two is more than 3,200 miles.

USM will leave Appleton on Wednesday morning for its return to Maine.

The championship game took 2 hours and 2 minutes to play. Tuesday’s first game lasted 3 hours, 10 minutes.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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