A pitcher’s best friend is his defense.

And Husson University’s pitching staff has benefited from a home-grown outfield that has run balls down all season long.

Sophomore center fielder Tom Crews and freshman left fielder Kyle Vanidestine are former Bangor High School and American Legion teammates and senior right fielder and co-captain Jeff Miller played his high school and Legion ball for Brewer.

They will have important roles as the Eagles play their first ever NCAA Division III Tournament game against the University of Southern Maine tonight at 7:45 at Eastern Connecticut State. The eight-team double-elimination tournament will feature four games today.

“They’ve been huge,” said Husson junior righthander Chris Morris. “They all have great speed and they’re all very athletic. They take extra-base hits away and it’s easy to pitch with them out there. You know if you make a little mistake and they hit the ball hard, your outfielders still have a great chance to make the play.”

“I’ve played with Kyle ever since we were young and I played with Jeff all of last year and we all definitely feed off each other,” said Crews. “We try to make sure nothing drops. We have a lot of communication.”

“Tommy and I have played a long time together and are used to each other. That has made it a lot more comfortable,” said Vanidestine. “And I’ve gotten to know Jeff this year. We’re all really close and that definitely helps.”

Miller said having speed and athleticism in the outfield is something “you need when you play on a turf field. It’s an advantage. It is tremendous for the pitchers’ confidence.”

He added that he and his outfield mates “have a lot of trust and faith in each other.”

All three have also been productive at the plate, also.

Vanidestine, the North Atlantic Conference’s Rookie of the Year, is hitting .311 with two homers, 24 runs batted in, 45 runs scored and 21 stolen bases in 22 tries out of the leadoff spot. Crews is hitting .288 with three homers and 24 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. He was the Most Valuable Player in the NAC tourney when he went 6-for-14 with two doubles, a homer, five RBIs and two outfield assists as he gunned down two runners at the plate. Miller is hitting .281 with four homers, 19 stolen bases and 30 RBIs.

Crews said his hot streak at the plate can be attributed to better health. He struggled for much of the year with a sprained ankle but it has improved significantly.

“I’m finally able to put weight on my ankle and that has enabled me to go back to my normal stance,” said Crews, who changed his stance to accommodate his ankle. “I’ve been seeing the ball real well.”

Vanidestine said he was “surprised” to be named the rookie of the year and enjoys being the leadoff hitter.

“I like to set the pace of the game and get the team going in the right direction,” said Vanidestine.

Sophomore lefty Ryan Arsenault (6-3, 3.82 earned run average) will get the start against a Huskies team hitting .345 and averaging 11.4 runs per game.

“This is definitely a good opportunity to see where I stand as a pitcher the number one team in the country,” said Arsenault referring to the fact USM had been ranked No. 1 in the national Division III polls before going 1-2 in the Little East Conference tourney. “I’ve got to keep the ball down and throw strikes. I’ll take it one pitch at a time.”

Chris Morris, who allowed just two runs in 6ª innings in a 4-1 loss to USM in April, said Arsenault will have to “change speeds and go at them. You can’t be afraid of their hitters.”

USM pitcher-first baseman-DH Collin Henry of Penobscot said he expects a “real intense game.

“We’ve got to get hungry and play with a sense of urgency,” said Henry who felt his team didn’t do so in the LEC tourney because they knew they were going to get an at-large berth to the NCAA tourney.

“They’re a scrappy team and we can’t underestimate them,” said USM reliever Andrew deBethune of St. Albans.

Catcher and NAC Player of the Year Nick Arthers (.433-11 homers-64 RBIs) and SS Ethan Guerette (.324-0-28) have paced Husson with USM featuring Anthony D’Alfonso (.436-8-74), Chris Burleson (.414-8-39) and Josh Mackey (.394-6-47) along with Ryan Gaffney (.378-6-44) and Ryan Pike (.359-10-65).

Arthers and D’Alfonso set school single-season records for RBIs.