APPLETON, Wis. — One game at a time. That’s what the University of Southern Maine is focusing on as it tries to battle through the losers’ bracket at the NCAA Division III baseball championships.
“That’s all you can do right now,’’ said junior relief pitcher Andrew Richards, who earned the victory Sunday in USM’s 11-5 win over Baldwin Wallace at Fox Cities Stadium.
While the Huskies know it will take four more victories to win the school’s third national championship, they are trying to focus only on Monday’s 1 p.m. game with Emory University.
“You’ve got to win that game,’’ said USM Coach Ed Flaherty. “You’ve got to win four in two days. One of the beauties of our teams over the years is that we’ve had strong relievers. Right now we’ve got pretty rested starting pitching staff, the opposite of what you probably should have at this time. Our starters are all pretty fresh.
“We’ll roll guys out there. If we need to start Ryan Browner we’ll do it. You’ve just got to go with the next guy you think is good enough. And I think matchups are important with whichever teams are left, who you feel will be strong against them … and just go with your gut feeling.’’
BROWNER PITCHED the final two scoreless innings of Sunday’s win. He gave up two hits and a walk while striking out three.
It was the second appearance of the championship tournament for the sophomore from Georgetown, Massachusetts, and shows that he has earned Flaherty’s trust.
Browner, a submarine-style pitcher whose right knuckles nearly scrape the dirt as he throws his pitch, has pitched very well recently.
“Ryan is coming on,’’ said Flaherty. “About three weeks ago I could see it coming. We talked about how I thought he could get out left-handed hitters. He’s a very coachable kid, very confident, very calm. And he’s at the point, to me, that he’s (like fellow reliever Andrew) Richards, he’s another Richards. We can throw him out there for a long time day after day. Because of the way he throws, he doesn’t put wear on his shoulders.’’
FLAHERTY WAS grateful for USM’s offensive explosion in the late innings Sunday.
With one out in the third inning of a scoreless game, Baldwin Wallace’s Kyle Chontos walked, then stole second base.
With left-handed batter Hunter Handel at the plate, Flaherty signaled for the Huskies to move into a defensive shift, with third baseman Troy Thibodeau going to short right field.
As Thibodeau was crossing the field, Chontos broke for an unguarded third base, easing in for a stolen base. He scored when Handel grounded out to second two pitches later.
“That was my fault, I’ll tell you that,” said Flaherty. “I agonized over a 1-0 game and the coach caused the loss.
“We shift certain guys and Handel is a guy who is a total pull hitter. Every single time. And he never bunts … They had a runner on second base and they run the bases very well. They’re very aggressive and look for the opening,” Flaherty said.
“I should have called timeout or I didn’t tell (shortstop) Sammy (Dexter) soon enough to move over to third base. And it was my fault. Agonized (over) that for four, five innings. Thank God for the team coming back.’’
BALDWIN WALLACE, located in Berea, Ohio, wasn’t even supposed to be here. The Yellow Jackets thought their season had ended when they lost in the championship game of their conference tournament. Sunday’s starting pitcher, Logan Heffernan, had already driven home to Cincinnati.
And yet they got an at-large bid, then won their regional to reach the championship tournament.
That’s why, said senior third baseman Brady Gugliotta, “I’ve got a smile on my face right now. Just to be here is a dream. To go out like this, when we thought our season was done, is really special.’’
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: