GORHAM, Maine — The comeback complete, the berth in an NCAA Division III tournament Super Regional series clinched and his teammates joyously whooping it up around him, Shaun Cormier tried to make sense of all that had just happened.
The New England College right-handed relief pitcher, a Rochester resident and Spaulding High School graduate, had pitched more than seven innings of relief without allowing a run and told coach Terry Doyle that, sure, he could go another inning.
Truth was, Cormier wasn’t so sure.
That’s why he might have been the happiest person among the loud crowd at Ed Flaherty Field when junior designated hitter Jameson Cary stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 13th inning and ripped the ball to right field.
Senior Nick Powers, who had reached base on an error and gone to second on Joe Maestu’s sacrifice bunt, raced around third and easily beat the throw to the plate to give the Pilgrims a 7-6 win over Division III power Southern Maine.
“I’ll be honest,” Cormier said. “Doyle came up to me when we came in and goes, ‘You got one more?’ I said, ‘I got you, coach. I got one more.’ But in my head, I don’t know if I had it. I can’t thank Jamie enough for putting me out of my misery there and getting me out of that jam. Whew. I was starting to get tired.”
Starting to get tired?
“My arm’s hanging,” Cormier said. “My legs are hurting. Everything’s hurting. But we came out and somehow we did it.”
Cormier and the Pilgrims have a couple of days to rest up and prepare for their next challenge, a Super Regional starting Friday at UMass Boston. The teams open the best-of-three set Friday at noon at Boston’s Monan Park, a replica of Fenway Park. They play again on Saturday at noon and, if necessary, will play a deciding third game after that.
The winner of the three-game series advances to the eight-team Division III World Series to be held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa from May 31 to June 4/5.
New England College takes a 28-16 record into Friday’s game. UMass Boston is 33-11 and won its third NCAA regional title, and second in three years, with a 6-4 victory over Wheaton on Sunday.
Like NEC, UMass Boston won two of its three games against USM this season. New England College and UMass Boston did not meet during the regular season.
The Pilgrims will look to continue in Massachusetts what they started in Maine last weekend.
Playing in their first NCAA tournament, the Pilgrims stunned USM – No. 3 or No. 4 in the nation depending on the poll, and a tournament regular under legendary head coach Ed Flaherty — with a 10-2 win on Friday afternoon.
Saturday, they rallied for three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to beat MIT, 6-5, to set a program record for wins and stay in the winner’s bracket.
USM crushed the Pilgrims, 16-4, in Sunday’s first game to force another game.
After giving up a lead in the deciding game, NEC rallied for two runs to tie it at 6-6 in the bottom of the seventh, setting up a marathon finish filled with clutch fielding plays and gutsy pitching.
In the clinching game, freshman left-handed starter Dylan Champagne threw 100 pitches, 75 of them strikes. Cormier threw 40 strikes among his 61 pitches.
Doyle expects his team to carry its aggressive approach into the UMass Boston series.
“Timid isn’t a word they know,” said Doyle, the former Salem High School and Boston College pitching standout. “That’s not in their vocabulary. They’re confident. They’re resilient.”
It was quite a weekend. It’s been quite a season.
Doyle was a graduate assistant last season and intended to be again this year as he finished up a graduate degree in business administration.
On the first day of practice, athletic director Lou Izzi called him in and asked if he wanted to take over as head coach after the previous coach had left.
“Absolutely,” Doyle said.
Ryan Gendron, who played at Nashua South and then at UMass Lowell and Southern New Hampshire, is in his third year as an assistant with the team and Doyle asked his good buddy Nick Asselin, who played at Trinity and was Doyle’s roommate and teammate at BC, to come up to Henniker and help when he can.
“Ryan’s our outfield, hitting, infield guy, he’s done it all,” Doyle said. “Nick called every pitch of that second game today. He’s been a great addition. We couldn’t have done it without those guys.”
The Pilgrims, who had won 20-plus games each of the last two seasons, started the season 18-8, but then lost seven straight.
“We definitely had a rough spot during the middle of the year when things weren’t going our way,” Cormier said. “I think coach Doyle brought us back together and I think right now we’re the strongest we’ve ever been all year.”
It’s been a wild ride.
“It’s insane,” Cormier said. “In a million years, I never thought I’d be part of the best NEC baseball team in history. It’s kind of crazy.”