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TCBB talks with Hall of Fame Coach Ed Flaherty, Part 1

Coach Ed Flaherty has become a regional legend and an NACB Hall of Famer in his 22 years as Head Coach of Southern Maine.  With a career record of 689 and 301 (.695 winning percentage), Coach Flaherty figures to cross into rarefied air with the potential to win his 700th game for the Huskies in 2009.  The Huskies will also be going for their third national DIII title in 2009 after falling short in the Northeast Regional against the Trinity (CT) juggernaut this past spring.  Coach Flaherty graduated from Maine, where he played baseball.  He was inducted into the University of Maine Hall of Fame in 1992, the State of Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993 and the National Association of Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2005.

We at TCBB would like to thank Coach Flaherty for taking the time to talk with us and wish him the best of luck in the upcoming season.
TheCollegeBaseballBlog – USM has emerged as one of the most successful programs in the nation over the course of your tenure, only once finishing with a winning percentage below .611 during the last 22 years.This past year you fell one game behind Keene State for the Little East Conference regular season title. What are the prospects for the Huskies and the conference as a whole next year?

Ed Flaherty – We return eight positional player starters and lose only one of our pitchers (our number three starter). So one would assume that we should be in store for a great year, but I’ve been doing this job for a long time and know anything can happen in the game of baseball. I believe our conference is one of the strongest in the nation at the DIII level and therefore it makes for a difficult road no matter what kind of team you have. We have had 6 national championships from our conference (four titles by Eastern Connecticut and two by Southern Maine) so that tells you the competitiveness of the league.

TCBB – The Huskies had no trouble hitting in 2008, with a team Batting Average of .345, but the pitching struggled at times. What can you do as a coach to help develop the pitchers you have and to help them get through the tough innings?

EF – Historically pitching has not been our strong point so we have gotten used to developing a deep staff and rely heavily on our bullpen. Actually, we put some of our more experienced veterans in relief roles. This allows us to develop our younger pitchers in starting roles and whatever they give us is a plus. It also allows them to gain experience and leave the tough 7th, 8th and 9th innings for the vets.

TCBB – You return two all-ECAC players in seniors Chris Burleson (SS) and Anthony D’Alfonso (OF). In order to take the Little East Conference title again, what players need to join Burleson and D’Alfonso in stepping up their games?

EF – Both Burleson and D’Alfonso are returning All-Americans and are the main offensive in our lineup.However we return other All-American type players. Colin Henry, our #1 pitcher and #3 hitter is one of the top players in New England. Ryan Pike is a potential draft pick who is one of the top athletes on our team. What we will need to get to the next level is for a couple of pitchers to step up to the top of the staff, and I look for Mark Schmidt to make a jump to the point he can be a dominant pitcher in our league.

TCBB – With the success enjoyed and exposure gained from Trinity College (CT) having a near perfect season, do you think the light that shone on DIII baseball and baseball in the northeast in general increased? And how much did stopping Trinity’s perfect season serve as a motivating force when USM faced off with Trinity during the Northeast Regional of this year’s NCAA Tournament?

EF – Trinity certainly had a magical year and I am glad they won the National Championship. I had never seen a team in baseball undefeated at that point in the season, but I am sure the only motivation we had that day was to get to the World Series. To their credit they beat us soundly and advanced.

TCBB – And with Trinity pitcher Tim Kiely’s selection in the 27th round of the MLB draft do you see greater opportunities for players like Burleson and D’Alfonso to make the leap from DIII to the professional ranks?

EF – There are many DIII players who can move on to the next level and at Southern Maine we have had many players move on to professional baseball. Tin Keily has an outstanding arm and I’m sure he would have been found at any level.

TCBB – Much along those lines, the young men you coach are largely looking at a career beyond the baseball ranks after receiving their diploma. As a parent of two high level baseball prospects (Former Vanderbilt All-American Ryan and Deering High School Senior Regan), do you have to structure your program in a means that skews the academic/athletic balance in a manner that weighs preparation for life after baseball in a greater way?

EF – I try to structure our program the same way a D1 coach does his program. I do think this is what good players are looking for. However, NCAA rules allow only 16 practices in the fall and 19 weeks overall in the season, so the student-athlete is protected from too much time spent on baseball. We also try to schedule our midweek games close to home to prevent missed class time.

TCBB – Your roster in 2008 included only three players hailing from outside Maine and Massachusetts, and those three were from Connecticut and New Hampshire. When recruiting to a northern program, even one with the level of success that Southern Maine has enjoyed under your tenure, do you find that weather restricts your recruiting base to the Northeast, or is it more a factor of recruiting strategy.

EF – We really zero in on the New England states in our recruiting. Maine is our bread and butter because of the reasonable in-state tuition and the fact D3 is a non-scholarship division. Our budget does not really allow to recruit outside New England, but certainly we would love to have young men from other parts of the nation try out for our team. So I think it is more a factor of money than it is weather.

TCBB -Your summer clinics are quite well regarded in the northeast. Are these baseball camps your primary means of identifying talent, and what showcases and camps do you and Coaches Boyce, Degifico, Prince and Smith attend to recruit?

EF – Summer camp is used to recruit talent to our school, and we have had many boys recruited from our camp. Showcases have become a major factor in college baseball recruiting and we make it a point to attend the ones that seem to benefit us the most. In our neck of the woods occasionally we find a “diamond in the rough” from Northern Maine who we find by word of mouth and then we go see him. Our current #1 pitcher hails from a small town next to Sugarloaf Mountain with a graduating class of less than 30.

TCBB – Finally, as head coach of a DIII power and the father of two student-athletes who have been recruited to attend Vanderbilt University in the SEC, what advice to you have for the Northeast high schooler who wants to continue his baseball career in the college ranks, either at the DIII level or in more high-profile conferences such as the SEC, ACC or PAC10?

EF – In this day and age, there are many showcases a young player can go to get noticed. Also, you can get in contact with a college of your choice and attend their development camp. It is important that a boy find a school that fits his ability level and academic level so he can get a good college degree and have an enjoyable baseball career.

Thanks to Coach for sitting down with us. Check back for more of our chat with Coach Flaherty on Monday morning.

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