HARWICH, Mass. — The University of Southern Maine survived a ninth-inning scare Thursday night and defeated Tufts 3-2 in the winners’ bracket of the NCAA Division III New England Regional.
USM (33-12) is one of the two remaining undefeated teams in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament, and will meet Endicott, the other unbeaten team, at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
Shortstop Sam Dexter collected three hits and scored the deciding run for the Huskies.
“Sam can hit all pitches; he’s the fuel that gets us going, he makes the big plays in the field,” Coach Ed Flaherty said. “He’s just a wonderful kid to have when we get into these situations. To me he’s the best infielder in the nation. I’d like to see a better one.”
The Jumbos loaded the bases in the ninth, but reliever Andrew Richards (5-1) induced Tom Petry to bounce into a force-out to end it.
“He’s our go-to guy. I never considered taking him out when they loaded the bases,” said Flaherty. “It was a game of persistence. Whoever cracked first was going to win and we were able to put pressure on them in the late innings.”
Said Dexter, “I don’t like (close games) but we always seem to be in them. Everyone on this team wants to be in the spot, everyone wants the ball. I think that plays well into the makeup of our team.”
Shyler Scates worked seven innings for USM, scattering eight hits, striking out one and walking one.
Tom Ryan was making just his fourth start of the season for Tufts.
“He pitched us tough,” Flaherty said. “He kept us off-balance.”
Scates and Ryan were effective through six innings.
The Huskies scored a run in the fourth on Chris Bernard’s RBI single up the middle, scoring John Carey from second.
The Jumbos capitalized on a Huskies error in the fifth to take a 2-1 lead. Nick Cutsumpas singled to center before moving to third on Troy Thibodeau’s errant throw to first on Connor McDavitt’s grounder. Cody McCallum and Wade Hauser followed with consecutive RBI singles.
Willie Archibald – who relieved Ryan in the eighth with the bases loaded, two outs and the tying run in – bounced a pitch to Forrest Chadwick that bounded back toward the mound. Dexter, who began the inning with a single, scampered home.
“It was a fortunate bounce, that’s all I can say,” said Dexter. “I’m waiting for anything in that situation, but I think they might have had a bit of miscommunication. You can’t hesitate in that situation. I was off on the get-go.”