Huskies Win First-Ever CAA Championship as Viera Walks It Off

Story by Milton Posner

Photos by Sadie Parker

WILMINGTON, NC — As the Northeastern Huskies celebrated on Brooks Field, as they doused their coach with ice water and raised their first-ever CAA Tournament trophy toward a cloudy North Carolina sky, the only question to ask was how.

Not “how did they win it”; this was, after all, a team that won 20 games in a row and nearly ran the table in conference play, a team with four quality starters and a treasure trove of .300 hitters. No, the question was how Jared Dupere maintained his preposterous slugging streak, golfing a first-inning homer to open the scoring and become Northeastern’s single-season home run king.

It was how Ian Fair and Ben Malgeri made ridiculous diving catches to keep runs off the board.

It was how Malgeri, who hit just two home runs in the regular season, smacked his fifth of the tournament to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth — off CAA Pitcher of the Year Landen Roupp, no less.

And it was how freshman Max Viera followed suit in the top of the tenth, launching a walk-off home run against a pitcher who looked entirely unhittable ten minutes prior.

It was all unbelievable. But as they had all week, and as they had all season, the Huskies made everyone believe. They bested the UNC Wilmington Seahawks 11–10 in ten innings to secure their first conference championship since joining the CAA in 2006. They will earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be around the game for a long time,” Northeastern head coach Mike Glavine said. “This is as great a moment as I’ve ever had. You get to share it with so many people. This is right at the top.”

Almost by definition, extra-inning championship games have plenty of back-and-forth drama. But the drama of Sunday afternoon’s game exceeded all expectations and rationality, even for fans who watched the same two teams battle it out in extra innings the day before.

“I’ll have to watch this game 10 times,” Glavine said. “There are so many overlooked things that happened.”

After Dupere’s first-inning two-run jack, neither team scored in the second inning. It was the only inning for which that was true.

The third inning took the affair from first to fifth gear, as a UNCW walk and single, plus a Northeastern scoring error, combined to plate a run and chase Husky starter Cam Schlittler from the game. The freshman had thrown 101 pitches three days before, and was handed the ball because the Huskies ran out of viable starters.

Friday starter Kyle Murphy replaced Schlittler, and the Seahawks slapped him around for the second time in three days. After allowing one of his inherited runners to score in the third, Murphy allowed consecutive RBI extra-base hits in the fourth and exited after just 22 pitches. The second such hit was a homer off the bat of UNCW’s All-CAA First Team right fielder Brooks Baldwin.

But the Huskies still led after all of this because they posted the most productive inning of the afternoon in their half of the third. They turned three hits and two errors into four runs, chasing multiple Seahawk pitchers from the game in the process. This would be a common theme in a winner-take-all game between two teams without rested starters; Northeastern used eight pitchers to get through ten innings, while UNCW used six.

The teams traded runs in the fifth, with Northeastern’s coming on Ben Malgeri’s third home run within 24 hours. The Huskies gained a run in the sixth, responding to Baldwin’s second dinger with two runs of their own after loading the bases with one out.

But the Seahawks made their move in the seventh and eighth innings, in large part behind the efforts of speedy center fielder Noah Bridges. In the seventh, Bridges singled, stole second, advanced to third on a throwing error, and scored on a sacrifice fly. In the eighth, he singled home Cole Weiss and Matt Suggs to give UNCW a 10–9 lead, their first of the day.

While all of this was happening, the Northeastern offense was fizzling. In the sixth, UNCW had brought Roupp, their ace starter and the CAA Pitcher of the Year, out of the pen on two days’ rest, and it was immediately clear why they did. Here’s the play-by-play:

  • L. Roupp to p for G. Herring
  • Fair struck out swinging.
  • Beaudet walked.
  • Smith grounded out to p, SAC.
  • Costello struck out swinging.
  • Viera struck out swinging.
  • Dupere struck out swinging.
  • Holzwasser struck out swinging.
  • Crossen struck out swinging.

“Roupp had us in a spin cycle out there,” Glavine said. “We just couldn’t stop it, and he sped us up again. I saw it happen, we all saw it happen and there was nothing we could do about it.”

So when Malgeri went down 0-2 to Roupp to lead off the ninth, he seemed destined to be another strikeout victim. But if it wasn’t apparent before, Malgeri was playing on another level.

“He’s tournament MVP for a reason. He just was unbelievable,” Glavine said. “In the biggest moment of the game, the biggest moment of the year, he did it.”

“I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and slow the game down. I was just playing the same game I always do, since I was a little kid, and it just happened,” Malgeri said. “I didn’t think it was out at first. I was just trying to get to second and get a run across.”

“It’s gotta be the top,” he added when asked where the moment ranked in his baseball life. “I can’t think of a better moment, honestly, not even close.”

It would have been understandable if the home run had rattled Roupp, but he seemed to barely realize that it even happened. He straddled the rubber, resumed his breakneck pace, and struck out the next three hitters to send the game to the tenth.

Brian Rodriguez was waiting for the Seahawks in the top half and, just as he had in the ninth, smoothly retired the side.

“Brian Rodriguez is a salt of the earth kid, one of the best kids I’ve ever coached,” Glavine said. “Couldn’t be happier for him. I wanted to save him for the whole game. We fired our bullet early with Cam, we saved Brian for the end, and we knew we would have all those other guys in between. We were just hoping they could give us everything they had because they were on empty. They fought, they battled, but we don’t win that game without Brian Rodriguez.”

And thus the table was set for Max Viera.

“His curveball was working, his fastball was working, and he was spotting up, so I was just looking for a fastball I could hit,” Viera said. “I just go blank [when I hit it]. I think it’s a flyout, I’m rounding first base, see it’s gone, and I feel like I’m in a dream.”

“This is the number one moment,” Viera said with a three-mile-wide smile plastered across his face. “I can barely talk.”

Glavine added that despite the euphoria, despite the unprecedented achievement, the team isn’t done.

“Let’s do something else we haven’t done before and that’s get into an [NCAA] regional and actually make some noise,” he said. “I believe this team can do it.”

Huskies Punch Ticket to Winner-Take-All Game With Dramatic Doubleheader Win

Northeastern will play a winner-take-all game against UNCW for the CAA Championship on Sunday at 1 PM Eastern. Click here to hear Milton Posner and Jack Sinclair call the action.

Story by Milton Posner and Jack Sinclair

Photos by Sadie Parker

WILMINGTON, NC — What stands out about Saturday, perhaps more than anything else, is just how many chances the Northeastern Huskies had to end their season.

After losing to the UNC Wilmington Seahawks on Friday night and dropping into the losers’ bracket of the double elimination CAA Tournament, the Huskies needed to win twice Saturday — first against the Charleston Cougars and then against the Seahawks — just to push things to a winner-take-all game on Sunday. When they struggled to score in the first game, and when UNCW’s comeback forced extra innings in the second game, it seemed as though the Huskies were playing with fire just a bit too much.

But they made it through, winning the most suspenseful and compelling game of the season in the process. They’ll play for all the marbles tomorrow.

Game One

The Charleston Cougars ran into Sebastian Keane and were the worse for the experience. It was clear from the first pitch that Keane had brought his best stuff. After allowing a single in the first inning, Keane retired 13 straight Cougars. He pulled out all the stops, mixing in a sweeping curveball with his blistering fastball. Keane struck out six en route to seven innings of one-run baseball, with an RBI double from Harrison Hawkins the lone blemish.

“Lights out in tough conditions when you know if you lose, you’re going home,” Northeastern head coach Mike Glavine said. “In his first tournament start. When the offense isn’t doing anything and the wind’s blowing in. He was awesome.”

Charleston’s William Privette mostly matched the majesty of the Northeastern starter, allowing only one hit over five innings.

“There was more pressure on us in that game than in game two, because you’re trying to get to game two,” Glavine said. “I think we were very tense and we couldn’t score. Wasn’t going our way by any stretch of the imagination.”

The man who relieved Privette, Tradd James, struggled as the Northeastern offense woke up. He started his outing by striking out Jeff Costello, then allowed a stand-up triple to Max Viera.

Then James met Jared Dupere. Or rather, Jared Dupere introduced himself to James by sending his pitch over the left field wall for a two-run home run, his twentieth of the year, tying the Northeastern single-season record.

“I don’t,” Glavine said when asked if he could believe the year Dupere is having. “And in limited action too; we’ve played less games this year. Every time he swings, I feel like it has a chance to leave the yard. He’s a threat and everyone knows it. He’s got the pressure on him from our team and somehow it doesn’t affect him.”

“He’s an animal,” Glavine added. “He carried us in that game.”

The 2–0 lead was all Keane needed, as his seventh inning of work went just as smoothly as the rest. Brian Rodriguez took the mound in relief and built off of Keane’s dominance, throwing two scoreless innings.

The offense took the nod from Keane and really laid into the Cougars in the eighth. Scott Holzwasser drove in a run with a double before Danny Crossen brought him in, also with a double. The parade around the bases continued, as Ben Malgeri singled to second base, with the assist coming from a throwing error that scored Crossen.

The game ended in a 5–1 margin in the Huskies’ favor, a solid all-around win. But given what came next, Husky fans would be forgiven for forgetting its finer points.

Game Two

One inevitable consequence of winning 20 games in a row and nearly running the table in conference play is that it tends to come at the expense of late-inning drama. But in the highest-pressure game of the season, Northeastern and UNCW gave us a match for the ages.

Unlike Friday’s game against UNCW — and, for that matter, the game they’d played a couple hours prior — the Huskies wasted little time. In the second inning, Scott Holzwasser, who has spent all tournament running faster on an injured ankle than most people run fully healthy, took Seahawk starter Luke Gesell deep down the left field line.

Not to be outdone, Ben Malgeri, who hit just two homers in the regular season, smashed his second of the tournament two batters later.

“His home run numbers are low and I’ve seen him hit balls like he’s been hitting them [now],” Glavine said. “We started talking about that [in mid-May] at Delaware, and since Delaware he’s done a really good job being more aggressive with his barrel, not getting beat, working to the opposite field, and working to pull to the gap. We talked about it, he listened, he’s executing.”

The 2–0 Northeastern lead held as Husky starter Wyatt Scotti, like Keane before him, mowed down batters effectively and efficiently. Malgeri added to it with another solo shot in the fourth — he’s hit more home runs since Thursday than did in the three months before it — and Max Viera singled home Teddy Beaudet in the fifth to tack on a fourth run.

Now, let’s draw a hypothetical line through the seventh inning stretch. Everything before this line constitutes a mildly interesting game, one with an excellent Northeastern pitching performance and a handful of homers.

Everything after it represents the most compelling baseball Northeastern, and probably the entire conference, has seen this season.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, consecutive singles by Cole Weiss, Dillon Lifrieri, and Noah Bridges, plus a sacrifice fly from Jac Croom, sliced the Northeastern lead in half. Scotti’s day was done.

Fireballer Brandon Dufault assumed the mound in the bottom of the eighth, just in time for the dam of baseball weirdness to burst wide open. After a Taber Mongero single and a Brooks Baldwin strikeout, both Trevor Marsh and Matt Suggs hit hard comebackers to Dufault, both of which could theoretically have yielded inning-ending double plays. Dufault spiked his throw into the grass in front of second base on the Marsh hit, then Suggs smacked his comebacker so hard that the ball tore the glove off Dufault’s hand and trickled away from the mound.

Bases loaded. Tying run on second. Go-ahead run on first. One out. Cole Weiss, who had hit a grand slam against the Huskies the day before, at the plate.

But Dufault sat him down on strikes. It wasn’t a deja vu story. Weiss was just a decoy for the main event.

The battle that ensued between Dufault and Lifrieri was mystifying. By the tail end of the at-bat, fans of both teams were applauding with every pitch. It was a war of attrition in miniature as Lifrieri worked the count full, then fouled off five consecutive 3-2 pitches. On the 11th pitch of the appearance, he landed a line drive in right field in front of Dupere. With the baserunners off with the pitch for the sixth time in a row, Mongero and Marsh scored easily. Tie game.

Dufault retired Bridges to end the inning. In the ninth, both teams mustered only a single, as Dufault and UNCW’s Hunter Hodges settled in nicely. The Huskies went into the tenth inning for just the second time this season.

They quickly loaded the bases on a Costello double, a Viera walk, and a Dupere intentional walk. A Danny Crossen sacrifice fly, a throwing error, and a Malgeri single cashed three runs and let almost all the air out of Brooks Field.

Not that the Seahawks would go quietly in the bottom half of the frame. A walk and a hit-by-pitch brought the tying run to the plate and chased Dufault from the game.

“I put him on for a third inning. That was my fault; he was completely out of gas,” Glavine said, though he noted that, “It’s a pretty simple thought process — it’s do or die, and he hasn’t pitched yet in the tournament . . . I didn’t want to come out of the game without firing our best bullets.”

On came David Stiehl, who forced a ground-ball double play on his second pitch to torpedo the inning. Lifrieri’s RBI single proved irrelevant as the game ended 7–5.

A couple of X-factors enabled the Huskies to withstand the Seahawk surge. One was a propensity for making quick, smart, strategic decisions in the field, which Glavine called “proud papa moments” and said excited him more than home runs. The other was the defense of catcher Teddy Beaudet.

“The number of pitches he blocked tonight under pressure was incredible,” Glavine said. “And then he throws a guy out under pressure. He’s playing his best baseball at the right time of the year.”

The Huskies will rematch the Seahawks again on Sunday, and Glavine says only Keane and Scotti are unavailable. This means Cam Schlittler and Kyle Murphy may pitch, though they likely can’t carry full starter workloads after pitching on Thursday and Friday, respectively. But it’ll be all hands on deck for the winner-take-all game.