By Justin Diament and Jack Sinclair
After demolishing Elon 14-8 and coming within one win of a CAA championship, the Huskies fell to UNCW in a 5-4 heartbreaker in the winner-take-all finals game on Sunday. The defeat leaves their record-setting regular season without a conference title to cap it, and a tense wait until 12 p.m. Monday to learn their at-large NCAA Tournament fate.
“I know we came out on the short end of the stick, but I just love coaching these guys,” said Northeastern coach Mike Glavine. “Just everything’s a challenge for us as a program, and that’s what makes us who we are. So I’m obviously disappointed with the result and disappointed with a couple of things during [the UNCW loss], but overall, I’m certainly not disappointed in our guys.”
Northeastern faced an uphill battle entering the day, needing two wins against Elon and UNCW. This was a better position than they could have been in, however, as the CAA made a last-minute adjustment to tournament structure due to a rainy weekend. Previously, as the team coming from the loser’s bracket, Northeastern would have needed to win two games against UNCW to take the title. Instead, the lone championship game would be winner-take-all.
The day began with the Huskies against the Phoenix, and Northeastern immediately showed off their offensive firepower. A series of small-ball plays allowed sophomore Mike Sirota to score after singling to lead off the game. The Huskies ended the frame up 1-0.
Freshman Aiven Cabral received the ball to start for Northeastern on just four days’ rest and immediately showed that he didn’t have his full command. He allowed one run to cross for Elon in the first, but prevented further damage by inducing a timely bases-loaded double play.
His second inning of work was equally laborious. After leading things off with a strikeout, he coughed up a walk and a baserunner off of an error. A fielder’s choice eliminated the lead runner, but it was clear that Cabral was not missing bats. Rather than risk further damage, Glavine cut his losses and pulled Cabral from the game.
Junior Jake Gigliotti relieved Cabral and dazzled from the moment he entered. He retired the lone batter he faced in the bottom of the second, then put down the Phoenix in order in the bottom of the third.
Northeastern broke the deadlock in the top of the fourth when redshirt senior Danny Crossen hit a leadoff home run over the wall in left field, which opened the floodgates for the Northeastern offense. They quickly loaded the bases, knocking Elon starter Ryan Sprock out of the game. Junior Ben Simon relieved Sprock and ran into trouble immediately. When the dust settled, the Huskies led 6-1.
The Northeastern offense was not done yet, as they scored another run in the top of the fifth. Junior Luke Beckstein singled to right field, scoring freshman Cam Maldonado to increase the Huskies’ lead to 7-1.
Elon got a run back in the bottom of the fifth, when redshirt junior Parker Haskin hit a solo shot over the wall in right field, but immediately afterwards, the Huskies offense exploded again. Northeastern plated five more runs, knocking more Elon relievers out of the game in the process. Freshman Cam Maldonoado capped off the inning with a three-run home run, giving Northeastern a 12-2 lead.
The offense struck yet again in the top of the seventh. Crossen, who finished the game 4-6 with a home run and 5 RBIs in a cathartic performance after his mistake against UNCW on Saturday, hit one up the middle to score Sirota and junior Gregory Bozzo and extend the lead to 14-2.
All the while, Gigliotti continued dealing on the mound and eating innings for a Huskies team that needed exactly that. He pitched for 6.1 innings, allowing four hits and only two runs while striking out six.
“[In the morning game], we got lots of effort,” said Glavine. “So proud of the guys. You know what you’re getting into going into this day and I thought we were a little nervous in the beginning of the first game. Aiven came out and gave us everything he had. Gigliotti was just incredible. Just did an awesome job and kept us in that game. And then the offense just started flying.”
Gigliotti finally exited in the ninth and Northeastern tried to get the final three outs with some of their lesser-used relievers. After a performance to forget for sophomore Hayden Smith and Sophomore Brett Dunham, who combined to allow three home runs in the frame, Northeastern finally recorded the final outs to reach the final score of 14-8 and reached the CAA championship game.
An hour later, the championship game began. Sophomore Zane Taylor got the start on three days’ rest for UNCW after a four inning, three-run outing against NU earlier in the tournament that was shortened by rain. He shut down the Northeastern offense in the first inning.
The one major downside to pitching Gigliotti in the first game was that it left Northeastern without a starter for game two. As a result, sophomore Jack Beauchesne got the ball as an opener in the finals. He struck out the first batter of the game, but would not record another out. The second Seahawk, redshirt junior Dillon Lifrieri, smacked a ball over the wall in left center for a solo home run. Freshman Tanner Thach followed the effort up with a solo home run of his own, this one over the wall in right center. After giving up two more hits, Beauchesne was pulled for graduate student Patrick Harrington, who allowed another run to score, giving UNCW an early 3-0 advantage.
Taylor mowed down the Northeastern batters for three and two thirds innings, allowing only two hits and striking out a batter. He was relieved by junior Ethan Chenault, who picked up right where Taylor left off and kept the Huskies off the board for another four innings.
Northeastern finally found some stability in a great performance from redshirt junior James Quinlivan. The lefthander provided three hitless innings for Northeastern, but his luck came to an end in the sixth, as redshirt junior Jac Croom added to the Seahawk lead, blasting a two run home run to make it 5-0.
“A guy like Quinlivan comes in and gives you a monster effort — that’s how you win championships — and keeps us in that game”, said Glavine. “And then the rest of the pen did a great job.”
Chenault finally showed some cracks for UNCW in the eighth. Sirota singled and Lane walked to put two runners on, causing Chenault to be pulled for freshman Connor Kane. Kane immediately gave up a single to Maldonado to load up the bases, then walked redshirt freshman Harrison Feinberg to give the Huskies their first run of the game. Northeastern then brought the tying run to the plate in Luke Beckstein, but he took strike three from new UNCW pitcher Brett Banks to end the threat.
The top of the ninth saw the Huskies put up a fantastic last gasp effort. Bozzo led off with a walk against Banks, and was advanced by a Smith single. Sirota then blasted an opposite field home run to make it a 5-4 game. After two outs, Lane walked and pinch-runner Justin Bosland stole second, putting the tying run in scoring position.
Then, Maldonado stepped up to the plate and hit a bouncing ground ball to second base. The second baseman Brock Wills made a weak throw to first, requiring a review to see if Maldonado arrived safely. The evidence in the review was inconclusive and the umpires stuck with the call on the field, calling out Maldonado to end the game and the Huskies title hopes.
Northeastern finished with four all-tournament selections in Maldonado, Smith, Gigliotti, and Crossen. Their CAA campaign is over, but they are likely to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regionals. They will find out their regional location Monday at 12 p.m. on ESPN’s selection show. Glavine made his case for Northeastern to receive a regional spot:
“Yeah, we’re a regional team. If we don’t [get a regional spot] it’s a shame. So I just told the guys I expect to hear our name called tomorrow. We’re in the seventh best conference and we’re right here in the final championship game. We got 44 wins. I’m expecting us to do something the program hasn’t done in our history and this thing’s not over yet.”
Thank you for listening to Northeastern Baseball on WRBB Sports this season. WRBB will have coverage of the regional championships if Northeastern is selected. Follow us @wrbbsports on Twitter for more information on regional coverage.