As many athletes struggled with inactivity after their sports were canceled last year due to COVID-19, Husson University pitcher Cam Graham simply went back to work.
Whether lifting weights in a buddy’s basement or in bullpen sessions with a cousin at a local baseball field, the left-hander from Littleton sought to continue building toward what he hoped would be a big senior season once the pandemic was contained enough for a return to play.
That work has paid off, as Graham’s efforts are one reason Husson will make its first NCAA Division III Baseball Tournament appearance since 2011 beginning at 2:30 p.m. Thursday against Oswego State in a six-team, double-elimination regional at Hartford, Connecticut.
The 2017 Houlton High School graduate has emerged as the ace of Husson’s pitching staff with a 5-1 record and 0.93 earned run average this spring.
Graham has allowed only four earned runs in 38 2/3 innings, including North Atlantic Conference tournament victories over Thomas College of Waterville and SUNY Cobleskill during which he yielded nine hits and no earned runs over 17 innings.
“He’s been the guy since day one for us and he knows that,” Husson coach Chris Morris said. “We’ve built him up to be this, and he’s just coming into his own right now. He’s a kid with a very blue-collar work ethic.”
That work ethic was developed from a young age.
Graham pitched four no-hitters during in high school and helped Houlton reach the 2016 Class C North championship game.
When summer baseball opportunities were limited in Aroostook County, he traveled 120 miles down Interstate 95 to play for two Bangor-area American Legion teams, Quirk Motor City in 2016 and the state champion Bangor Coffee News Comrades in 2017.
Graham has been a consistent contributor since arriving at Husson in the fall of 2017 with a 10-5 career record in 21 appearances, including 18 starts, covering 94 2/3 innings.
Graham’s freshman year included a no-hitter on April 29, 2018, against Northern Vermont-Lyndon, the first no-hitter for a Husson pitcher since 2006.
Still, the transition to college baseball wasn’t without challenges.
“I hoped I would come in and make an impact, but to be honest I wasn’t sure when I came here as a freshman if I could get college hitters out,” Graham said. “But [Jason] Harvey was the coach then and he and [former assistant] Brandon Portwine believed in me and put the confidence in me that I could pitch at this level, and I just kept working at it.”
Graham’s sophomore season was slowed by an ulnar collateral ligament injury in his left elbow, then came the coronavirus that ended Husson’s 2020 season after 10 games in Florida.
“That was a tough experience,” Graham said, “but I think it motivated a lot of people to work on their games throughout the summer and motivated us to get back to playing this year.”
For Graham that meant returning to the Houlton area, where he lifted weights with longtime friend Jacob Worthley and did baseball drills with cousin Silas Graham.
“I’d work in the morning, get out at 4 or 5 in the afternoon and then go over to the field, get my work in for baseball with Silas,” he said. “Once I got done with that I’d head to my buddy’s house around 6 or 7, grab a quick bite to eat and then we’d lift for a couple hours. Then I’d go home and wake up and do it all over again.”
The work continued once he returned to campus last fall and continued through the winter, including throwing at Sluggers’ in Brewer with former Bangor High School and University of Maine right-hander Justin Courtney, who now pitches in the Los Angeles Angels organization.
Graham struggled in his first start this spring against the University of Southern Maine, walking five batters and allowing five runs (two earned) in 2 1/3 innings.
“At the time we played them they were ranked eighth in the country so I think I was trying to be too fine, trying to pinpoint instead of trusting my stuff and just going after guys,” Graham said. “After that game I flipped the switch and said instead of beating myself I’m going to make teams try to beat me and that’s been the biggest thing so far.”
Graham has not lost in more than two months since then and has allowed only two earned runs over 36 1/3 innings.
“Mostly it’s just his approach,” Morris said. “We talk about being a little bit more attacking and just small adjustments. He’s done a great job of doing work on his own, too, to his credit, but really he’s just starting to scratch the surface of what he’s going to do here as a pitcher and we’re lucky to have him.”
Graham, 22, plans to return to Husson this fall to pursue his master’s degree in business administration and play baseball for a fifth season under an NCAA waiver that provides all student-athletes during the pandemic-impacted 2020-21 academic year an extra year of eligibility.
His immediate goal is to help Husson make the most of its NCAA opportunity.
“I feel like this is the best I’ve pitched, this year, but I still don’t think I’ve pitched my best yet,” Graham said. “I think I’ve got a little more to show, and hopefully we’ll make some noise this week.”