As summer comes to an end and the leaves begin to fall, a new sport season begins to emerge and sports fans all over the country shift gears and begin to follow their favorite football teams, college and pro, in almost religious ways.
Baseball though, is a sport that remains existent in the autumn months with its midnight game winning playoff home runs, and its games where players’ breaths are almost as white as the pearly ball they throw and hit. The USM baseball team has started to experience some of fall baseball fever, as they began their long journey to becoming Division III’s best team when fall ball started on Sept. 3 at the USM Baseball Complex.
After last year’s season that saw the Huskies reach the Little East Conference championship, the new and improved USM baseball team is welcoming several new players as well as the familiar faces of seasoned veterans that are a year older and are determined to bring the program to the national prominence that it is known for.
The Huskies lost only three players from last year, but all three were key players that will be very hard to replace. 1b/p Collin Henry (Penobscot), who as a four year starter, compiled 210 career hits including 20 career home runs, and 59 career doubles (which ranks second in program history behind three time All-American and current assisstant coach Bob Prince), and pitchers Mark Schmidt (Gorham) and Andrew deBethune (St. Albans) who each played important roles on the mound for USM in the last three seasons. Yet, along with the farewells of such players come the return of 21 of the 26 players on last year’s roster who are full of skill, energy, and leadership qualities that could be the factor necessary to bring this team to the top.
Fifth year seniors Mike Eaton (Sabattus) and Josh Mackey (Danvers, Mass.) look to continue their stellar careers with ample experience in big games and a tremendous sense for how to play the game. Eaton, who has been an important part of USM’s team on the mound, at the plate, and on the bases is recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder this fall, but will be ready to go in the spring for hopefully another great season. Mackey, who is the Huskies regular third baseman but can play both middle infield positions as well, was sidelined last season after having surgery on his wrist. Mackey’s smooth swing will help drive in some runs for the Huskies this season as he’ll hopefully repeat a 2009 season in which he hit .385 with six home runs and 47 RBI while also being named a third team All-New England DIII Baseball selection.
Although USM said farewell to three very important pitchers, the Huskies still look to be in great shape on the mound in 2011. The senior class features the heart and soul of the pitching staff with Ben Ives (Portland) projected to be the team’s ace. Ives went 4-3 last season with a 4.34 ERA and throws a mid 80s fastball with movement, a hard slider and a solid changeup. Nick Hahn (Guilford, Conn.) will be looked on to maintain his key reliever role as he mixed an accurate fastball with a hard breaking curveball to record the most strikeouts out of any reliever last season. Tall right-handed starting pitcher Joe Curran (Arlington, Mass.) will be a powerful presence on mound this year and junior Greg Holmes (West Newbury, Mass.) will most likely be an important weekday starter. Head coach Ed Flaherty will look to infielder-turned-pitcher Grey Goodrich (Amesbury, Mass.) to provide some innings out of the bullpen, as well as the arms of senior southpaw James Nutter (Kennebunk) and junior Jim Nicknair (Glenburn). With the return of junior closer Dustin Stanton (Cornish) and the addition of lefty Brennan Perry (Hampden), and righties Matt Leach (Saco) and Ryan Yates (Norway) who all sat out last year, the Huskies will have an array of pitching options.
Senior catcher Jordan Berthiaume (Berlin, Conn.), and juniors Zach Fernandes (Eliot), and Lucas Marks (Orland) look like they will be all splitting time behind the plate, and junior shortstop Anthony Pisani (Cheshire, Conn.) is back for another year providing solid defense and a quick bat at the shortstop position. Junior tandem Roberto Valenti (Lawrence, Mass.) and David Ricker (Winthrop) will join sophomore Tucker White (Deerfield, NH) as one of the LEC’s fastest outfields. All three have five-tool potential and all came up big in key points in the 2010 season.
USM’s 2010 freshman class can be argued as one of the best in the last several years, with many of them stepping up and coming through for a team that was strapped with injuries last year. They are a year older and more developed and experienced coming into this fall, and will be looked upon to play important roles on the 2011 team. Infielder John Carey had a tremendous freshman campaign flashing both his leather and his bat as he hit .330 with five home runs paired with 35 RBI en route to garnering the LEC Rookie of the Year honor. Sophomores Nick Grady (Whitefield), Brett Barrett (Keene, NH), and Christian Hamilton (Westbrook) also all bring aggressive bats to USM’s talented lineup.
Several newcomers show potential for an already stacked team including two Division I transfers in Chris Bernard (Scarborough) from the University of Maine, and Luke Hammond (Portland) from Long Island University.Also, don’t forget about all the freshmen that are fighting for a spot on the team as well.
There is no doubt that the USM baseball team will have depth this year. It will just all come down to who is playing well and who can get the job done to get the Huskies one step closer to the College World Series in Appleton, Wisc. Regardless, we are in for a special year on the diamond here at USM.
Are you excited for fall? I know I am. The road to Appleton starts here.