GORHAM — The University of Southern Maine has been the best NCAA Division III baseball team in New England this season. Now the Huskies will find out just what that means.

USM (31-13) is the top seed in the NCAA Division III New England regional tournament, to be held at Whitehouse Field in Harwich, Massachusetts.

The Huskies, who have won the New England regional the last two years, will open against eighth-seeded Suffolk University (18-24) at 1:15 p.m. Wednesday.

“I don’t think seeding matters in these tournaments,” said Sam Dexter, USM’s standout junior shortstop from Oakland (Messalonskee High). “Everyone’s here for a reason. All these teams are good. They’ve had great seasons and you can’t really look past anyone at this point.”

“No matter if you’re the first seed or eighth seed, you’ve got to win the same amount of games,” said Ed Flaherty, in his 30th season as USM’s head coach. “We’ve been No.1, we’ve been No.2. We’ve gone in as the sixth seed and made a run at it.”

The key, said Flaherty, is to play consistently. And that’s something USM has done all season. The Huskies have lost consecutive games just once this year – dropping a doubleheader to Western Connecticut on March 28, losing 14-8 and 2-1.

“That has a lot to do with our leadership,” said Matt Bender, the sophomore third baseman from Walpole, Massachusetts. “And that starts with Sam and Andrew (Richards, the senior pitcher). To be able to bounce back like we’ve been able to do, especially with such a young team, really helps a lot.”

The Huskies start three freshmen regularly – second baseman Brandon Martins and outfielders Devin Warren and Nick Bowie. Bender and first baseman Paul McDonough are sophomores.

It’s an interesting mix, with Dexter among the best players in the nation. And Richards, who holds four USM career pitching records, heads a pitching staff that has big-game experience.

“I think this is a tribute to all our coaches and the guys themselves for grinding,” said McDonough, who moved to first base this year from second after he suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder in fall baseball. “We’ve had a lot of good freshmen come in this year and different guys, like sophomores and juniors moving around, playing different positions than before, really stepping up.”

The winner of this tournament heads to Appleton, Wisconsin, for the NCAA Division III College World Series. The last two years, that’s been the Huskies.

“We’ve still got a week to go before that can even pop up,” said McDonough.


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