HARWICH, Mass. — It’s deja vu all over again for the baseball teams at the University of Southern Maine and Endicott College. Only in reverse.
Endicott forced a winner-take-all game in the NCAA Division III New England Regional, holding on to defeat the Huskies 7-6 Saturday night at Whitehouse Field.
Trailing by three, USM (34-13) loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth and scored two runs. But Endicott reliever Davarn Nova struck out the Huskies’ No. 4 and 5 hitters, Chris Bernard and Matt Verrier, on nasty change-ups to end the game and set up a rematch at noon Sunday.
A year ago, it was USM that had to win two games on Saturday to force a winner-take-all game, and the Huskies did just that, beating Endicott in the second game. Then USM beat Endicott again in the title game, 9-0, to advance to the World Series, where it finished second.
Endicott (34-15) defeated MIT 7-3 earlier Saturday. Endicott and USM have already met four times this season, each winning twice.
“It was a great game,” said USM Coach Ed Flaherty. “And our kids came close. We came within one hit of winning it. It just didn’t happen today.”
Senior left-hander Logan Carman (3-1), a preseason All-American who missed much of the season because of an injury, will pitch Sunday for USM. The Gulls will counter with their ace, J.J. Branch, who missed Saturday’s game because he was at his sister’s wedding.
Flaherty said his players have to simply forget about Saturday’s game.
“We wash it down the toilet,” he said. “It’s over. We never think about the past.
“We just have to play another game. We’ve got to come out with the same aggressiveness and confidence.”
Endicott erased an early 2-0 deficit, taking control with a four-run third. An RBI single by catcher E.J. Martinez in the top of the ninth gave the Gulls a 7-4 lead.
But with one out in the bottom of the ninth, USM loaded the bases on back-to-back singles by Forrest Chadwick (limited to DH duties because of a quad injury) and Nick DiBiase and a walk to Paul McDonough.
Endicott Coach Bryan Haley replaced pitcher Colby Morris with Nova, who closed out the day’s first game.
Nova gave up a single to John Carey that scored pinch-runner Jake Welch. Then he hit Sam Dexter with a pitch, forcing in DiBiase to make it 7-6.
Up came Bernard. But Nova got him on a 2-2 change-up. Then he struck out Verrier with the same pitch for his fourth save.
“He’s a special kind of competitor,” said Haley of Nova. “He never really gets caught up in the moment.”
“Coach preaches staying focused and being relaxed,” said Nova. “I was honestly just trying to relax on the mound and trust my defense behind me.
“I’m not really a strikeout pitcher, but (the change-up) is what I go to to punch out people.”
USM took a quick lead when Jake Glauser launched a titanic two-run home run to left in the bottom of the second.
That woke up the Gulls. With one out in the third, Endicott strung together five consecutive hits off USM starter Zack Bean. Harry Oringer hit a three-run homer, and Tad Gold closed the rally with an RBI single.
“We definitely had to respond,” said Oringer. “We all wanted to have quality at-bats to string together, hopefully get something going. But we definitely had a sense of urgency.”
Endicott made it 5-2 in the fifth on an RBI single by Steve Morganelli. USM got a home run in the fifth from McDonough.
An RBI single by Chadwick in the sixth brought the Huskies within a run. But the Gulls answered in the seventh on a two-out RBI single by Morganelli.
“We put ourselves in a good spot to win the game,” said USM third baseman Troy Thibodeau, who made several outstanding defensive plays. “It just didn’t happen.”
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at:firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: MikeLowePPH