MANSFIELD, Conn. — After losing to UMass-Dartmouth on Thursday, the University of Southern Maine baseball team faced the daunting task of having to win four games in two days to claim its third consecutive Little East Conference championship.
USM stayed alive with two wins Friday but couldn’t complete its journey out of the loser’s bracket, as top-seeded Eastern Connecticut State dethroned the Huskies with a 6-5 victory Saturday at Eastern Baseball Stadium.
USM got the tying run to second base with one out in the ninth. But Adam Merritt, who has not allowed an earned run in 231/3 innings this season, struck out the side for his sixth save.
Pat Barnett (7-0) earned the win, allowing five runs and eight hits in eight innings. He was in control after surrendering four runs in the bottom of the first.
Gavin Lavallee’s solo home run off Dan Kinnon gave Eastern Connecticut (32-7) a 6-4 lead in the top of the seventh. The Huskies got one back on Sam Dexter’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning.
“Last year we had to come through the loser’s bracket, the kids are used to it,” said USM Coach Ed Flaherty, referring to the Huskies’ runs in the NCAA New England regional and the Division III World Series. “I thought we had a really good shot today.”
In the bottom of the eighth, USM slugger Forrest Chadwick tripped over the first-base bag trying to beat out a grounder to second. He said after the game that he pulled a quadricep muscle.
“That was a big spot in the game, I was trying to get a hit,” said Chadwick, who batted .444 (8 for 18) in the tournament with four home runs and seven RBI. “I thought I had it up the middle, so I was busting my butt, and I just felt something pop.
“I’m more disappointed about my leg because the same thing happened last year in postseason and it’s frustrating, but I’ll get through it and be back next week.”
USM (31-12) is expected to receive an at-large berth to the NCAA Division III tournament and could join Eastern Connecticut at the New England regional in Harwich, Mass., which begin Wednesday, though the Huskies also could be shipped to any one of eight regionals.
Ryan Browner (0-1), the second of four USM pitchers, took the loss after starter Chris Bernard yielded four runs and five hits over 31/3 innings.
After the Warriors reached Bernard for three runs in the top of the first, the Huskies teed off in the bottom of the inning against Barnett, who gave up hits to the first four batters.
The Huskies took a 4-3 lead on Chadwick’s two-run double and RBI doubles by Bernard and Troy Thibodeau before Barnett settled down.
“During the first inning, I was more worried about winning the game and winning each inning,” Barnett said. “I realized I had to break it down pitch by pitch.”
The Warriors took a 5-4 lead in the fourth on Brendan Lynch’s sacrifice fly and Nick Ververis’ RBI single off Browner.
Flaherty admitted fatigue might have been a factor for the Huskies, but he would love to see his team get another crack at Eastern Connecticut.
“They’ve got us three, let’s see if they can get us a fourth,” Flaherty said of the Warriors, who are 3-0 against USM this season.
Eastern Connecticut’s Mike Vaccarelli was named the tournament MVP after batting .737 (14 for 19) with four RBI and a .895 slugging percentage.