May 19, 2013

Steve Solloway: Richards' rubber arm saves USM

HARWICH, Mass. - Andrew Richards doesn't blink. Tell him his car was stolen or his best dog ate his homework. And died. Tell him that.

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Andrew Richards, USM’s ace reliever, pitched a shutout Saturday against Western New England in his first start of the season, then earned another win in relief against Endicott as USM avoided elimination from the NCAA regional.

Joel Page/Staff Photographer

He won't blink.

Tell him he's going to pitch in the ballgame the University of Southern Maine must win to continue its season and keep alive its hopes for a trip to the NCAA Division III baseball championship. Tell him he's going to start the game.

You can even remind him that he's never been the starting pitcher in his very brief career at USM. He won't blink.

Andrew Richards, the 6-foot-2, all-arms and all-legs right-handed sophomore, won two of the most important baseball games of his life on the same day over a six-hour span.

First he threw a complete game against Western New England, allowing no runs and five hits, all singles. He was pitching for the third straight day, in the NCAA Division III New England tournament, having worked four innings in relief Thursday and then making another relief appearance Friday.

After USM eliminated Western New England, I kiddingly asked Richards how many innings he had left in that right arm.

"I can go another two innings," he said.

You mean Sunday, right?

"No I can pitch two more innings today if (Coach Ed Flaherty) needs me."

He didn't blink.

As it turned out, Richards worked 52/3 innings of Saturday's second game. Without hesitation, Flaherty brought Richards into the game with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning. He allowed one inherited runner to score on a sacrifice fly. He allowed one more run in the sixth. Then he shut the door.

Richards threw 156 pitches in a good days' work Saturday. He threw 109 of them for strikes. He threw 92 pitches in the first game, 62 for strikes.

"Was I keeping a pitch count? Nah," said Flaherty. "Not with this kid. I just ask him how he feels. He knows. Andrew is just so loose. His arm, his shoulder, his mind. I don't know that he can run a mile. But he can throw a baseball."

Loose? Flaherty recruited Richards when he pitched for Tony DiBiase at South Portland High. Even then he mixed his pitches well, let nothing faze him, and threw strikes. Richards wasn't the best student in high school and enrolled at Southern Maine Community College as a freshman. He worked on his study habits.

Richards attended his first classes at USM at the start of second semester this winter. The freshmen were more assimilated into the team. Flaherty wasn't concerned.

"Andrew is a talker. You wouldn't know it, because he is so level-headed. But he got to know all his teammates pretty quick."

Richards developed a rapport with Matt Verrier, the senior catcher from Norway and Oxford Hills High School. "I just put my glove down and let him throw to it," said Verrier. He doesn't have to encourage or calm his pitcher. Richards is very low maintenance.

"He's Andrew," said Verrier. "He's phenomenal. He's a beast. He just throws strikes."

Each time he walks out of the bullpen or dugout he comes to a full stop at the first-base line. You can see his shoulders rise. He takes a deep breath and crosses the line.

It clears his head, he said after Saturday's second game. It relaxes him. You could say that deep breath relaxes the whole team. A season's-worth of aches and pains have caught up with some of the starters. A violent 24-hour virus has picked off more than a few players, one-by-one.

Senior designated hitter Chris Bernard of Scarborough was out of Saturday's lineups. Jake Glauser (Goffstown, N.H.) just came back from a quick trip to the hospital and played center field Saturday, subbing for Forrest Chadwick (Gardiner), who was limited to being the designated hitter and limping around the bases because of a severe muscle pull.

Chadwick was out of Friday's lineup. He returned Saturday, and in the first game hit a two-run double in the first inning. Richards got five runs of support in that inning.

Then there was Sam Dexter and his bruised ribs. The freshman shortstop from Oakland and Messalonskee High hit two home runs, each going nearly 400 feet. The second broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the ninth inning of the second game, giving Richards his second win.

The day before, Dexter mentioned that he knew how to play through injuries.

And Richards? Before he left Whitehouse Field with his teammates I asked if his tournament was finally done.

"No," he said, grinning slightly. "I can go two more innings Sunday."

He didn't blink.

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

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

 

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