By Jack Sinclair and Justin Diament
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Northeastern is down to its final strike.
After losing 6-5 in the 10th inning to the UNCW Seahawks due to a combination of a suspended game knocking out their starting pitcher, poor relief pitching, and a heartbreaking error by third baseman Danny Crossen, the Huskies cannot lose again if they are to win the 2023 CAA Championship.
The Seahawks, who are the tournament’s top-seed compared to the Huskies third-seed, were the de facto home team for the semifinal matchup, which began at 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon under rather consistent rainfall.
Sophomore Zane Taylor started the game for the Seahawks and began his afternoon by mowing down Huskies despite the wet conditions for the first three innings. He allowed only one hit through those innings and was almost untouchable. For the Huskies, junior Eric Yost received the ball to start and was excellent. He pitched four complete innings, while allowing only two hits and striking out a batter.
Yost finally received run support in the top of the fourth. Thanks to a barrage of singles and walks, the Huskies jumped out to an early 3-0 lead. After being staked to the lead, Yost would walk the leadoff man, but rebounded to retire the following three batters in quick succession to end the fourth.
Then, much to the chagrin of the Huskies, the umpires convened in the infield. After a waving signal, the two teams stopped warming up and fled to the dugouts. A rain delay. After about an hour, the umpires announced their final decision: the game was to be suspended until the following day.
The Huskies resumed play against the Seahawks on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Neither starter was able to continue, so new pitchers warmed up for both teams. Junior Ryan Calvert got the ball for UNCW, and was immediately strong. He retired the first three batters he faced, however, the Huskies manufactured a run in the top of the sixth, as senior Danny Crossen scored after a Maldonado double. They now led 4-0.
Graduate student Patrick Harrington got the ball for Northeastern and had a solid first inning of work. His second inning is where things got hairy for the right hander. Harrington coughed up a single, then a double, and then a walk to load the bases. Redshirt junior Jac Croom singled to left center, scoring one, and that was it for Harrington. Crossen was also injured on the play after being spiked by the runner sliding into third base, staying down on the ground for about 30 seconds. He was able to remain in the game, but was clearly hobbled a bit after the play.
Senior Nick Davis entered the game in relief of Harrington with the bases still loaded. Davis immediately walked in a run, then allowed a two-RBI single to tie up the ballgame. The stalemate did not last long, as a bunt single by redshirt junior Kevin Pitarra gave the Seahawks the lead. A mental mistake by first baseman Tyler MacGregor may have assisted the go-ahead run, as he appeared to think there was a force play at home and flipped the ball softly to the catcher Gregory Bozzo despite Bozzo having nowhere near enough time to tag the runner. Davis escaped the inning without further damage, but the Huskies now trailed by one run.
The Seahawks advantage lasted until the top of the ninth, when redshirt freshman Harrison Feinberg stepped into the batter’s box. Feinberg ambushed freshman pitcher Connor Kane with an opposite field fly ball on the first pitch he saw, drilling it over the right field wall to tie the game. Northeastern did not score for the rest of the inning, leaving the game tied at five all.
Graduate student Griffin Young entered the game to get the game to extra innings. He shut down the Seahawks in order, sending the teams to the tenth inning. Redshirt junior Brett Banks entered the game for the top of the tenth and induced three groundouts in a row.
The bottom of the tenth saw Young come out for his second inning of work. Almost as soon as Young took to the mound, a torrential downpour came down from the skies. Young clearly had trouble gripping the baseball, as his control declined in the soaked conditions.
After walking two consecutive batters, Young then regained his control as the downpour calmed down a bit. He induced a groundout and struck a batter out to put two outs on the board. Then, against the final batter he’d face for the day, Young induced a pop up. It was a routine-looking play off the bat, but the rain and wind made it a tough play as the ball drifted from foul ground back towards the infield. Crossen ran in from third to play the pop-up. In heartbreaking fashion, the ball fell out of the hobbled Crossen’s glove, just as the runners crossed the plate, giving the Seahawks the walk-off win.
The Huskies will play Elon in their loser’s bracket semifinal game on Sunday at 1 p.m. The Huskies need a win to survive and advance in the tournament. If they do, they will play UNCW again for the conference title at 5 p.m. Jack Sinclair and Justin Diament will be on the air live for WRBB Sports.