APPLETON, Wis. — Pressure? The University of Southern Maine baseball players insisted they didn’t feel any, despite being a loss away from having their season end.
And they played like it.
With Andrew Richards again providing shutdown relief pitching Saturday, and Jake Glauser and Forrest Chadwick hitting home runs, the Huskies stayed alive in the NCAA Division III national championships with a 6-3 victory over Salisbury (Maryland) University at Fox Cities Stadium.
The Huskies lost their opener Friday night in the double-elimination tournament but true to their season-long form, came back with an emphatic win.
USM is 13-1 following a loss this season.
“This year we’ve picked up 14 losses but we’ve been good at losing a game and coming back the next day and playing well and winning the game,’’ said USM Coach Ed Flaherty. “I had great faith the kids would come back and win today.’’
USM trailed 2-1 before Richards came in. He pitched 52/3 innings of three-hit relief, needing only 53 pitches – 41 strikes. And the Huskies scored four runs in the top of the fifth – Glauser leading the inning off with a towering home run over the left-field wall – to take control. Chadwick, who had four hits and three RBI, hit his home run in the ninth.
USM (36-14) will play Baldwin Wallace of Berea, Ohio, in another elimination game at 1 p.m. Sunday. Baldwin Wallace lost Saturday to St. Thomas of Minnesota, 5-4.
While the Huskies looked shocked Friday night after losing 8-1 to Wisconsin-Whitewater, the players said they were confident they could come back.
“I don’t think there was any pressure at all,’’ said shortstop Sam Dexter. “I think if anything, we were eager to get back on the field after last night. I think all of us know we can play better than that. We were ready to go this afternoon and we’ll be ready to go Sunday.’’
Still, USM trailed 2-1 after the Sea Gulls scored two runs in the second on two-out RBI doubles by Bill Root and Kyle Hayman, who was tagged out by third baseman Troy Thibodeau after oversliding the bag.
And when Salisbury got a runner to second with one out in the fourth, Flaherty walked replaced starter Shyler Scates, who threw only 40 pitches, with Richards, the Huskies’ star reliever.
“The thing is, you’re in an elimination game and we’re down 2-1 and they put a runner on second,’’ said Flaherty. “I just thought if it got to 3-1, it would be a little tougher mentally for us on the bench and on our offense. And I think that was a make-or-break time in that game. And when there’s a make-or-break time in a game, then I’m going to go to Richards.’’
Richards allowed a single to the first batter he faced, putting runners on second and third, then got a called third strike and a comeback grounder.
Up came USM in the fifth. Glauser fouled off a pitch from Salisbury starter Dan Fein, then crushed the next pitch high over the left-field wall. Designated hitter Matt Bender, in the line-up for the first time, hit the first pitch he saw for a single. Then Paul McDonough hit the first pitch he saw for a single.
Both moved up on a groundout by John Carey, who almost beat the throw to first from third. Dexter looped the first pitch he saw into left field, scoring Bender with the go-ahead run.
Chadwick, back in center field but still not completely healed from his left quad injury, grounded a 1-1 pitch into right, scoring McDonough and Dexter, who narrowly beat the throw from right fielder Hayman with a headfirst slide, his left hand tagging the plate under the swipe of catcher Austin Barefoot.
“I took a little peek as the ball was coming in,’’ said Dexter. “I knew I would have to get around him to the plate. I knew it was going to be close. I was lucky to get my hand in’’
“That was a great call by (third-base coach) Ed Boyce,’’ said Flaherty. “Excellent call. If you don’t get it, you second-guess yourself. But that run was a big run for us.’’
Fein thought USM got much more aggressive in that inning. “I was throwing a lot of strikes and they jumped on it,’’ he said. “They played well today. They’re a good team.’’
After that inning, it was up to Richards and a steady defense to hold the lead.
The Huskies turned two double plays in the final three innings, including one to end the game.
“It’s easy to pitch when you have the guys behind you playing defense like that,’’ said Richards. “Just throw strikes and let the other team hit them, and they’ll make the plays.’’
And now the Huskies have at least one more chance to make the plays.
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: