Sunday, March 9, 2014
APPLETON, Wis. - The ping sounded different. The flight of the ball off Anthony Pisani's metal bat was different.
Teammates tensed in the University of Southern Maine dugout watching the ball veer away from the left fielder and bounce toward the warning track and the corner.
Pisani rounded first, looked up and never slowed until he stood on the bag at second.
He looked at his bench. Maybe he felt the air of so many breaths and pent-up cheers being released. Yessssss!
His boys were back in the NCAA Division III World Series. No runs had been scored. It was only the top of the third inning of Sunday's elimination game with Webster (Mo.) University. The loser would go home, the winner would survive to play again Monday.
USM hitters had scuffled through the first two games of the World Series.
The team that was used to scoring an average of nearly 10 runs a game could score only two in its extra-innings win over Millsaps on Friday.
It could score only one in Saturday's 10-1 loss to Linfield (Ore.).
Good pitching can stop good hitting, but USM's silent bats was truly discouraging.
Coach Ed Flaherty was searching for his Marco Scutaro, the journeyman infielder who became the hero of San Francisco's World Series win in October.
Where was Mark Bellhorn, the Punch and Judy hitter for the Red Sox in 2004 who became Popeye in the postseason? The hot lights of attention that shrink big stars can make the little ones blossom.
Yes, said Pisani after USM beat Webster 7-2, maybe his double did get his teammates going. He was careful with his words. As individuals, the Huskies don't know how to single themselves out.
He's a fifth-year senior second baseman who lost a whole year to an injury as a sophomore. He had to sit and watch while USM got swept out of the NCAA regional.
He had to sit and watch his freshman year after a ball kicked up in the first game of the NCAA regional, breaking the bone that protected his sinuses.
Like Ryan Yates and Tucker White and Nick Grady and John Carey and a couple others, this is Pisani's last rodeo as a college baseball player. He didn't want to go down swinging and missing. None of them did.
But Sunday, someone had to get them started.
Understand that Flaherty doesn't have real look-at-me-players. Grady keeps his answers short, White even shorter. When asked about his big home run Sunday that broke up a 2-2 tie, Carey could only say he got a good pitch to drive.
Flaherty didn't name a team captain. He was waiting until one revealed himself. Then he realized his seniors as a group were effective leaders. But not vocal leaders.
And if their bats didn't speak for them, then what?
Pisani sometimes bats second, but usually eighth or ninth. He hit .340 during the season, but batting eighth is Bellhorn territory. You're overlooked until you walk to the plate.
Pisani scored from second on Sam Dexter's two-out single to center in the third. Carey doubled to left center, scoring Dexter, and USM was up, 2-0. Better yet, Carey, Forest Chadwick, Matt Verrier and all the boys were fired up.
Flaherty likes to say the players pick each other up, cheer for each other. But if everyone's down, someone has to stand.
Pisani added an RBI single later in the game. He turned a nifty double play at second, stepping on the bag to force a Webster runner before throwing to Carey at first to get USM out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning.
Pisani also got picked off second after driving in a run in the three-run sixth. Webster shortstop Ryan Hall had slipped back to the bag while Pisani edged further away from second.
"I was trying to make sure I'd score on a single," said Pisani. He grinned and gave up. He got caught. He knew it.
He was trying to make something happen. Again.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: