Monday, March 10, 2014
By KEN CASTRO Special to the Press Herald
HARWICH, Mass. - Third-seeded Endicott handed the University of Southern Maine its first defeat in the NCAA New England Regional Championships, taking a 5-2 win at Whitehouse Field on Friday afternoon.
Endicott received solid mound performances from J.J. Branch and Tyler Hitchcock. Backed by a number of slick defensive plays, the pair allowed just six hits over nine innings.
"That game started differently than that," said USM Coach Ed Flaherty, as the Huskies put a number of hard-hit balls into play, but had little to show for it.
"We hit a line drive off the pitcher in the first inning and in the second we hit another line drive off the pitcher that turned into a double play. We hit the ball to the outfield well. I think if those balls drop, the complexion of the game changes."
Colin Sitarz provided the Gulls with an early 1-0 lead when he took Huskies starter Shyler Scates deep to left for a solo home run in the fourth.
USM threatened in the bottom of the third against Branch, as Troy Thibodeau lead off with a perfectly placed bunt single and advanced to second when Nick DiBiase drew a walk.
Branch got a well-timed assist when Sam Dexter lined a comebacker that ricocheted off Branch before finding the glove of Endicott shortstop Cody Hall who stepped on second and fired to first for a double play. With Thibodeau on third, the Gulls got a nice defensive play by Endicott third baseman Matthew Paola -- who threw on the run to get a hustling Anthony Pisani at first base.
Hall doubled the Gulls advantage in the top half of the fifth with an RBI single to left, scoring Tad Gold from third.
Scates worked six innings, facing 21 batters for USM, allowing a pair of runs. He was lifted for sophomore Andrew Richards to begin the seventh.
"Shyler's a freshman and that's about what we've gotten from him all season," said Flaherty of his starter.
USM loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth -- prompting the removal of Branch, who gave way to Hitchcock, a senior right-hander.
Hitchcock promptly put the Huskies on the board by hitting Tucker White to score DiBiase.
Nick Grady then grounded into a 4-6-3 double play that scored Dexter and evened the game at 2-2.
Endicott came right back, scoring a pair of runs in the seventh and then adding an insurance tally in the eighth.
In that decisive seventh, Endicott strung together a pair of bloop hits and a bunt to load the bases with nobody out against Richards.
A walk by Richards make it 3-2, and that proved to be the eventual game-winner as the Huskies couldn't put anything else up on the scoreboard.
"It's unfortunate, but that's the game. I'll bring him right back out (Saturday)," said Flaherty of Richards, a South Portland native who has crafted a 7-2 record in 28 relief appearance for the Huskies. "He has been our go-to guy in that situation all year."
Freshman Tyler Leavitt is slated to start for USM on Saturday, facing Western New England at noon.
The Huskies beat the Golden Bears 6-5 in Thursday's second round.