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.
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.
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.
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.