Husson University had a breakthrough season.
Not only did the Eagles win the North Atlantic Conference after being runners-up for six consecutive seasons, they won two games in their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division III New England Regional to finish fourth.
They lost their opener to the University of Southern Maine 5-4 in 10 innings.
Husson’s 33 wins shattered the school record of 27 set in 2006.
And six of the nine regulars in Husson’s lineup were freshmen and sophomores, as were three of the five pitchers who won at least four games.
“We showed people we have a real good program,” said sophomore shortstop Ethan Guerette, who was an all-tournament selection at the regional thanks to a 6-for-15 showing (.400) with six runs batted in. “One of our goals was to win the NAC championship and another was to win at least one game in the regional and we won two.”
“I definitely think we turned some heads,” said junior righthander Chris Morris. “Some of the best teams in the country were in that regional.”
Defending NCAA champion Trinity won the tournament. USM was ranked No. 1 in the country earlier this season and Eastern Connecticut State and Trinity were both ranked in the top six.
“We got a lot of experience at the regional and realized we were a lot better than we thought we were,” said sophomore first baseman Chris Maguire. “We had no idea what to expect going into the tournament. That put us on the map.”
“We had a terrific season. We accomplished all of our goals and more,” said freshman righthander Nate Adams, who won a team-high seven games including a complete-game 10-3 win over Westfield State in the tournament. “Hopefully, next year, we’ll be even more competitive in the regional.”
“We now realize what it takes to be one of the top teams in the region,” said second-year coach Jason Harvey.
The Eagles will return their entire infield and two-thirds of their outfield next season.
The biggest void will be catcher Nick Arthers, who set the school single-season record for runs batted in (67) and tied the mark for homers (11) while also hitting .416. The NAC Player of the Year and All-New England Division III second- team pick was also a co-captain along with right fielder Jeff Miller (.276, 4 homers, 34 RBIs, 21 stolen bases), the only other regular who has graduated.
Guerette (.330-0-34, 26 stolen bases) headlines the list of returnees along with LF Kyle Vanidestine (.312-2-26, 22 SB), Maguire (.307-1-33), DH Dennis Graham (.293-3-35), CF Tom Crews (.286-4-28, 11 SB) and 3B Jake Arthers (.284-1-18), Nick’s brother. Second baseman Cody Haverly-Johndro hit .223 but went 5-for-16 in the tournament. Haverly-Johndro can also play shortstop and Corey Cushing went 4-for-11 in the tournament to raise his average to .250 on the season.
Vanidestine (.316, 7 runs scored in NCAAs) and Maguire (.313, 4 runs, 3 RBIs) also had impressive tournaments. Every regular had at least three hits.
Husson hit .291 as a team and committed only three errors in the four games.
The pitching staff will be led by Adams, 7-2, 3.26 earned run average; Ryan Arsenault (6-3, 3.96), Morris (5-3, 4.18) and Kyle Leeman (4-2, 6.28).
Righty Chris Pease (6-2, 4.18) has graduated as has utility infielder Billy Shannon. Pease picked up the other tournament win, 10-6 over Babson with seven innings of four-hit, four-run ball.
The Eagles are already looking forward to next season.
“Hopefully, next year, we can top what we did this year,” said Guerette.
“We’ll have a good nucleus back,” said Harvey. “I’d like to see us be more consistent, offensively, throughout the lineup and have a little more depth in the pitching staff. That will come with the recruits coming in. We want to keep improving from year to year.”
He said their performance in the regional will aid his recruiting and will help the program earn respect from the other top programs in New England.
“I think we’ll be just as good if not better next year,” said Maguire. “We’ll have a young team with real gifted athletes.”
He said the team learned the value of hard work this past season and the 6 a.m. practices were all worth it.
“If feels better when you get this far,” said Maguire.
“We want to keep progressing,” said Adams.
“We’ll keep attacking and competing,” said Morris.
Harvey said Hampden Academy’s Shawn Smith and Brewer High’s Billy Bissell, who will be freshmen in the fall, will be legitimate candidates to replace Miller in right field and he has returnees Tim Braind-Evans, Nick Smith and Joe Soucy to replace Arthers behind the plate.
Smith can also pitch.
As for incoming pitchers, hard-throwing Peter Dickinson of George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill, Bill Doherty from Scituate, Mass., and Kevin Hudon from Hinsdale, N.H., will help provide quality and depth on the mound, Harvey said.
Harvey also returns relievers Graham (2-0, 2 saves, 0.00 ERA), Aaron Sullivan (0-0, 3.38), Ryan Walker (2-0, 7.11) and Dan Beatham (1-1, 2 saves, 8.39) along with Ben Davis (0-1, 7.20).