By Jordan Baron
These days, it’s pretty routine to find a baseball team at the AA level or higher where a majority of the pitching staff can throw 95 or higher. What’s abnormal is when a college team has that.
But that’s exactly what the Northeastern Huskies faced in their Friday night season opener, as they squared off on the road against the No. 17 Wake Forest Demon Deacons and their 11 flamethrowers. And, to everyone’s surprise, the unranked Huskies put up quite the fight against their ACC opponent. They fought back from an early deficit to take the lead in the middle innings before a three-run bomb and some good relief work gave the Deacons an 8–6 win.
“Pretty fun college baseball game and thought it was pretty well played by both teams,” Northeastern head coach Mike Glavine said. “Not the result that we wanted, but certainly a really good battle.”
Northeastern redshirt senior starter Kyle Murphy went five innings and gave up five earned runs across that span, four of which came in the first. The Huskies outhit the Deacons 12 to six but couldn’t convert the hits into runs, as they left eight men on base.
Murphy did not begin his season the way would’ve liked to, hitting the first batter he faced before giving up a double and a walk to load the bases. Junior catcher Shane Muntz punished the right-hander with a bomb of a grand slam to put the Deacons up by four.
Murphy settled in after that, and pitched extremely well for four innings, giving up just one more run and retiring the last six batters he faced. Murphy, whose K/9 sat at around 12.5 during last-year’s pandemic shortened season, fanned seven batters in his five innings.
“He’s a veteran, but even still for him it’s [the] first inning, it’s outside, it’s another team, and just kind of settling in. Once he got through that first inning . . . he pitched really well,” Glavine said.
The Husky offense faced the mighty arm of sophomore firebender Ryan Cusick, whose fastball topped out at nearly 100 mph on the evening. The #40 ranked prospect in college baseball lived up to his reputation; through five innings he had retired eight batters via the punchout and given up just three hits.
“There’s less room for error,” Glavine noted. “Obviously you can’t get down when you strike out or feel like you’re not grinding. And you got to find ways to lengthen at bats, make them work a little bit, try to drive up pitch counts and then wait for mistakes. You’ve got to be ready for them.”
Cusick had all the confidence coming out for the sixth, and with a 5–0 deficit against a nationally ranked team, the Huskies were in a very tough spot.
Suddenly, however, Northeastern caught up to Cusick’s fastball, as redshirt sophomore Ben Malgeri doubled to lead off the inning and advanced to third on a groundout to get himself 90 feet from scoring the Huskies’ first run. Redshirt junior Ian Fair used his power to muscle a fly ball to deep center for an easy sacrifice fly.
With two outs, the scoring threat looked to be neutralized, but the resilient Huskies slapped two straight singles to give redshirt sophomore Corey DiLoreto an opportunity for more damage. The first baseman took it and smacked a laser beam down the left field line that barely bounced in fair territory for a double, scoring both runs and bringing the Huskies within two. Cusick completed the inning, but his pitch count was too high to go any further.
“Strikeouts can add up,” Glavine said. “Even though they stink as far as not putting balls in play, if you force him to throw four, five, six pitches to punch you out, you hope that helps out later.”
Northeastern kept the ball rolling in the seventh and eighth against the Wake Forest bullpen, striking for one in the former and two in the latter to take a 6–5 lead. Redshirt sophomore Owen Langan pitched two innings of scoreless relief in the home half of the sixth and seventh, striking out two Deacons and not allowing a hit.
Entering the late innings, the Huskies looked poised to take a victory in their season opener. However, Deacon freshman Brock Wilken had other ideas, as he rocketed a ball down the left field line and over the fence for a three-run homer off redshirt junior reliever Brandon Dufault. The Deacons finished with a 1-2-3 ninth and snatched the victory.
“We’ll just regroup tonight,” Glavine said. “Tomorrow [we’ll] see how the guys feel and try to get some other guys in there . . . I think they got a couple freshmen arms in there tonight which is something they probably want to do and same for us, trying to get different arms in.”
The Huskies will send sophomore Sebastian Keane to the hill tomorrow to face junior William Fleming.