GORHAM — How much difference does a year make? The University of Southern Maine baseball players hope it makes all the difference.
A year ago the Huskies lost in the championship game of the NCAA Division III national tournament, 4-1, to Linfield College of Oregon.
They’re making the return trip to Appleton, Wisconsin, this weekend and look to turn that experience in their favor.
“We win differently, we play differently than last year,” said first baseman John Carey of South Portland. “And there’s no guarantee that when you get there we’ll be successful.”
But, he added, “having that success last year kind of makes me feel more relaxed. Last year it was all new; we didn’t know what to expect.”
“We didn’t know if we were facing the Red Sox or the Yankees,’’ said catcher Matt Verrier of Norway and Oxford Hills High. “But after the first couple of games we knew we belonged. And that’s what we expect this year, too.”
The Huskies (35-13) will play Wisconsin-Whitewater (40-7) in the first round of the double-elimination event at 8:45 p.m. Friday. A victory will put them into Saturday’s 8:45 p.m. game against the SUNY-Cortland/Salisbury winner. A loss drops them into the 2:15 p.m. loser’s-bracket game against the Cortland/Salisbury loser.
Logan Carman, who is expected to start the first game, said the biggest thing he will take from last year’s experience is the Huskies know what the other teams will be like.
“We know that teams aren’t going to make mistakes out there,” he said.
“Our hitters have to capitalize on poor pitches their pitchers make. And if the other team does make an error, we’ve got to make sure we do everything we can to get that run in.
“(USM’s) pitchers have got to try to minimize the big innings.”
This will be Ed Flaherty’s eighth trip to the nationals as coach of the Huskies. He’s presided over two national championship teams, in 1991 and 1997. He can deal with the expectations but knows what his players are talking about.
“If you’re going there for the first time, it can be a bit daunting,” he said.
Chris Bernard, the outfielder/designated hitter from Scarborough, said that’s how the Huskies felt last year.
“The first couple of games out there last year, our bats were silent,” he said. “I think everyone was over-hyped, trying to do too much.”
USM returns six starters in the field and most of its pitching staff. The Huskies know the drill this time, and not just on the field.
“You’ve got the (pre-tournament) banquet, you’ve got the hype,” Flaherty said. “It’s the whole thing. By those kids having that experience, it should play well for us going forward.”
Still, he said, you’re talking about baseball.
“If you pitch it well and you field it well, that will put you in the game,” Flaherty said. We need pitching and defense, that’s our top priority.”
Forrest Chadwick, the talented outfielder who is still recovering from a quad injury suffered in the Little East Conference championship game, likes the Huskies’ chances.
He said last year’s experience helped them learn how to deal with pressure.
“It’s about knowing how to handle those situations, not getting caught up in the moment,” he said. “We learned to just step back, relax and have some fun.”
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: