GORHAM — Back in early April, Ed Flaherty was wondering what was happening to his University of Southern Maine baseball team.
The Huskies, traditionally among the best NCAA Division III teams in the nation, had lost five of six games to drop to 10-6. Among those losses were back-to-back shutout losses to Colby College (4-0) and St. Joseph’s College (5-0).
And after losing 7-1 to Eastern Connecticut State in the first game of a doubleheader on April 24, the Huskies were 15-8 and struggling to string together hits. Then USM fought back to win the second game, 4-3, on a bases-loaded walk by freshman Cam Seymour in the ninth inning.
The Huskies haven’t lost since.
“Sometimes,” said Flaherty, in his 36th season at USM, “it only takes that one win to get you going.”
USM (29-8) has won its last 14 games and will travel to Eastern Connecticut for the best-of-three Little East Conference championship series, starting with a doubleheader Thursday. The teams split four games in the regular season.
The winner will get the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament. The loser will have to wait until Sunday night’s selection show (10 p.m. on NCAA.com) to find out if it gets in.
Flaherty is hoping for a stress-free weekend. Asked if USM could get an at-large bid, he said, “This is the one year I couldn’t tell you. But I do know this is a good team and one that I think can compete for a championship.”
The Huskies have received steady pitching and defense all season. Their team ERA of 3.25 was second in the conference only to Eastern Connecticut (3.22), as was their strikeout total (314 to 378) and opponent’s batting average (.226 to .201). USM had the best fielding percentage (.975) and the second-fewest errors (35) in the league.
And the hitting has come around. USM finished third in the LEC with a .295 batting average, but hit .331 in those final 14 victories.
Sam Troiano, a junior outfielder from South Portland, is batting .277, leads the team in runs (44) and is second in home runs (nine) to Seymour (11).
“In years past, we’ve always hit very well during the beginning, the midseason and to the end of the season, but always have gone cold in the playoffs,” Troiano said. “This year, we struggled through the midseason and it’s kind of reversed. We’re picking up our bats as we get into the playoffs.”
Senior pitcher Ben Lambert, from Saco and Thornton Academy, said everything has come together, even mentally.
“I think midway through the season we were in a bad place and struggled a little bit,” said Lambert, who is 6-1 with a 2.24 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings. “As the season went along, we started picking up the bats a little bit. We’re definitely throwing better as a team. The defense was always there but some of the other things weren’t … You think too much when you’re struggling, and once it clicked for us, it just stayed that way.”
Flaherty noted that everyone has contributed, especially some younger players.
Several freshmen, including second baseman Janek Luksza, Seymour and pitcher Bryce Afthim, have been pivotal to the team’s success, along with sophomore right fielder Tom Vesosky. Vesosky was inserted as the leadoff batter and is hitting a team-high .368 with six stolen bases. Luksza is batting .297 and solidified the middle infield defense. Seymour has a .336 average and led the team in home runs and RBI (50) while scoring 34 runs. Afthim, used mostly in relief, went 8-0 with a 2.66 ERA.
“We’ve got a lot of things going for us,” said Flaherty. “And I think we’re still developing.”