The University of Southern Maine made getting back to Wisconsin its mission as soon as last year’s trip ended one win short of a national championship.

Back in the Badger State again, the 2013 NCAA Division III baseball national runner-up begins its quest to win one more game Friday night in the opening round of the eight-team, double-elimination World Series in Appleton, Wisc.

The Huskies (35-13) will play Wisconsin-Whitewater (40-7) in the nightcap of a four-game opening day. First pitch is scheduled for 8:45 p.m. Eastern time.

It is USM’s eighth all-time appearance in the World Series, all under head coach Ed Flaherty. Flaherty led them to national titles in in 1991 and 1997.

The Huskies will probably find Fox Cities Stadium hostile territory. Appleton is two hours north of Whitewater. But senior catcher Matt Verrier of Norway believes they will be more comfortable than most of the other eight teams in the tournament. USM and defending national champion Linfield College of Oregon are the only teams back from last year.

“I think we’re all pretty relaxed. We know what the road is there. I think that will help with the way that practice goes, knowing how the banquet goes, knowing where the hotel is going to be, all of that kind of stuff. I think that will be good,” he said. “It’s like playing the regional in the same place as last year (in Harwich, Mass.). It was familiar to us and felt right.”

Flaherty, now in his 29th year at the helm, said last week’s New England Regional was the most relaxed the Huskies looked and played all season. The weight of expectations the players had placed on themselves didn’t seem to be the burden it was for much of the season.

“I’ve never expected to be anywhere but trying to win the next game, but I had that sense from these kids that they were thinking about getting back to the World Series, and you can’t think that way,” he said. “I don’t think it allowed us to play as well as we’re capable until the last couple of days of the regional.”

USM bounced back from losing the Little East Conference tournament championship against Eastern Connecticut to go 4-1 in the regional. The offense busted out, scoring 7.2 runs per game, led by seniors Verrier, John Carey, Forrest Chadwick and Chris Bernard, sophomore Sam Dexter and freshman Paul McDonough.

“I’d say the last two weeks of the season we jelled and started playing like we could,” Chadwick said. “There’s no easy out in our lineup, one through nine. We can all hit. We all get on base, especially the first two, Sam and Paulie.”

Chadwick gave the Huskies a big boost in their 11-1 win over Endicott in the regional final, returning to the No. 3 spot after a quadricep injury limited him to pinch-hitting the first four days of the tournament. He went 3 for 5 with a home run and four RBIs, typical of the LEC all-star outfielder’s production this season.

Chadwick said Tuesday he expected the quad to be at “90-to-95 percent” by game-time Friday.

“If Chadwick gets himself back healthy, we’ll be as healthy as we’ve been in two years,” Flaherty said.

Health was a factor for USM in last year’s World Series. Southpaw ace Logan Carman took a line drive off his pitching arm during regionals and wasn’t his usual dominant self the rest of the postseason.

After shaking off some early-season shoulder soreness, the senior has returned to form. He won two games in the regional, including the final, and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

“That’s huge for us that he got healthy. I think he’s hitting his stride now,” Verrier said.

While Carman was sidelined, sophomores Tyler Leavitt and Shyler Scates drew some big starting assignments and performed well. That experience should help this weekend.

Junior reliever Andrew Richards, whose Iron Man efforts in last year’s World Series got USM to the final, is ready to take on a big workload again.

“We got the first step winning the regional championship and getting back to the World Series,” Richards said. “We’re just looking to go back and get the job done this year. From day one, when we were indoors, that was the goal.”

Flaherty said he has as much faith this team can get it done as any he’s ever coached, including those who returned to Gorham as national champs.

“I’ve had 29 years at this and I’ve never had a group of kids like these kids I’ve had the last two years,” he said. “How they interact with each other, how they interact with the coaching staff, with teachers, with people around camps. Their maturity is unbelievable.”


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