Husson University’s first trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament will see the Eagles face a familiar opponent in the opening round: the University of Southern Maine Huskies.
The eight-team New England Regional begins Wednesday at Eastern Connecticut State University with the second-seeded Huskies (35-7) and seventh-seeded Eagles (31-12) squaring off at 7:45 p.m. in the final game on the four-game first day.
USM beat Husson 4-1 on April 8 in Bangor.
The Huskies are making their 18th NCAA Division III Tournament appearance, the third in the last four years. They own an all-time record of 52-34. USM has won two NCAA titles.
Husson coach Jason Harvey and his players are looking forward to their first tournament game.
“It’ll be nice to see a familiar face and to play against them,” said Harvey. “This is definitely a good way to get our guys a taste of the NCAA Regionals.”
“We’re pretty excited about it,” said Husson sophomore first baseman Chris Maguire. “It will definitely be a challenge but we’re ready to go. Having played them already is an advantage for both teams.”
“We know a lot more about USM than we do any other team in the tournament,” said sophomore center fielder Tom Crews. “When we played them, they didn’t blow us out of the water.”
Husson led 1-0 after five innings but USM scored two runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh to collect the win.
Crews and sophomore shortstop Ethan Guerette said the fact they played a close game with USM gives them a boost.
“It’ll give us confidence,” said Guerette. “We know we didn’t face their best pitcher. But we want to beat them at their best anyway.”
“We were timid going into that game because they were the No. 1 team in the country. But we found out they throw the baseball like everybody else so we know we can play with them,” said Maguire.
Husson and USM are the only two Maine teams involved in the tournament so Guerette said the game will be for in-state “bragging rights.”
USM coach Eddie Flaherty said he and his Huskies consider the Eagles to be a quality opponent and they won’t take them lightly.
“They’re a good team. I’m sure they’ll be ready to go and they’ll give us all we can handle,” said Flaherty. “They played us very tough. They aren’t an easy draw.”
He was impressed with Husson in their April game, saying, “They didn’t make errors and their pitchers threw strikes. And we didn’t face their best pitcher. They force you to beat them. They aren’t going to give a game away.”
USM enters the game after finishing third in the Little East Conference tournament last weekend, losing to eventual champion Eastern Connecticut (14-6) and Keene State (7-2). Husson hasn’t played since beating Castleton State (Vt.) 7-6 in the North Atlantic Conference title game on May 3.
The players don’t feel the layoff will hurt them. In fact, they said the rest was good for them.
“We’re fresh and ready to go,” said Maguire.
“We feel really good,” said Guerette.