September 3, 2013

Steve Solloway: Rain can't wash away memories for USM

The team of unassuming ballplayers from small towns in Maine and New Hampshire, mostly, can be proud of making it to the national tournament.

Andrew Richards wanted to hear Tucker White's introduction to the Portland Sea Dogs' crowd before the last game of the season was played at Hadlock Field. Richards anticipated the cheers and applause for his University of Southern Maine teammate.

click image to enlarge

Chris Bernard of Scarborough returns for his final USM season after a memorable spring. One thing he has put behind him – failing to touch the plate after an apparent playoff homer.

2013 Press Herald file

click image to enlarge

Andrew Richards was a workhorse last spring for USM, throwing 242 pitches over 151⁄3 innings in two games to keep the Huskies alive in the NCAA Division III tourney.

2013 Press Herald file

"Tucker was the national college baseball player of the year. He deserved a little more recognition for that. It just wasn't meant to be, I guess."

Monday morning's downpours washed out the game, the season and the parade for USM. The game was canceled about 90 minutes before White was to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. His teammates would have stood on the infield grass at Hadlock Field watching and soaking up the recognition.

They caught your attention last May after winning the NCAA Division III regional tournament on Cape Cod, earning a spot in the national tournament in Appleton, Wis. Then the team of unassuming ballplayers from smalltowns in Maine and New Hampshire, mostly, won hearts if not the championship game.

USM lost to Linfield (Ore.) College, 4-1. Players and coaches returned to a warm welcome home on the Gorham campus and headed in separate directions. The school year was over.

"It seems like it happened just yesterday," said Richards. The lanky pitcher threw 242 pitches over 15 1/3 innings in the final two games to keep USM in contention. He still doesn't want to give up the baseball. He got more than a taste of playing for the national championship.

"I listen a lot to what Tom Brady says in interviews. His most memorable moment is going to the next Super Bowl. I like that. I'm sure I'll talk more (about past seasons) when my career is over."

He's the big, loosey-goosey kid from South Portland who admits he was stopped this summer a lot by friends and strangers asking the same question: How's your arm? Still attached to the shoulder?

Between Cape Cod and Wisconsin it seemed Richards threw a thousand pitches. Was it about to fall off? "Feels better than ever," he said. "I can't wait (to start pitching again for USM.)"

He bypassed a chance to play summer ball in rural upstate New York, opting instead for the Portland-based Twilight League.

Chris Bernard of Scarborough was another who stayed home. He wanted to walk onto the field at Hadlock not for himself, but to be around his USM teammates again.

Even if they'll still kid about his gaffe in Appleton. Bernard drove in the winning run that beat Ithaca College and set up the championship game with Linfield. He's also the guy who didn't touch home plate after hitting the ball a long way over the left-field fence on the play.

"I've put it behind me," said Bernard. "I still don't laugh about it, even if my teammates do."

Bernard broke an extra-inning tie with his apparent two-run homer. His teammates rushed out of the dugout to wait for him at home plate. "I'm not typically an emotional player but I was then. Instead of jumping on the plate, I jumped over it."

He was called out and credited with a triple.

Instead of working with a two-run cushion in the bottom of the 13th inning, USM was up 5-4 when Richards walked back to the mound. Bernard was the designated hitter. In the dugout, he held his breath.

"He drove in the winning run and I was getting the last three outs," said Richards. No problem.

The heavy showers did let up in Portland before noon but the outfield was too wet and more rain was forecast.

Again, USM would not get its day in the sun.

The Sea Dogs wanted to recognize the success of Coach Ed Flaherty's players on July 1, but the rains came that day, too.

It would have been nice to stand in front of a Sea Dogs crowd, said Richards.

It would have been nice to shake hands with Sea Dogs players who are not much older than them.

Nice, too, to be with teammates who won't return for the 2014 season. All but one of the players from the national runners-up said they would be at Hadlock.

The only thing missing would have been the national championship trophy and banner, said Bernard, who returns to USM for his final season. "Obviously it's a long road but it would be nicer to do this next summer after we win."

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

 

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