Baseball: Northeastern takes on Sox

FORT MYERS, FLA – If one thought crossed the minds of the baseball team Feb. 28 at City of Palms Park, it was probably ‘This isn’t Friedman Diamond.’
Not only was the sunny, 80 degree weather a pleasant change from the raw and soggy conditions commonly found at the Huskies’ home park in Boston during the early spring, but Northeastern’s opponent was markedly better than any conference or non-conference foe the team will face this year.
The Huskies were a guest of the Boston Red Sox, the 2008 American League Wild Card team. Boston tacked on five runs in the first inning and another seven in the third en-route to a 14-0 victory.
Senior righty Russ Lloyd took the mound to start for Northeastern. Minor league lefty Kris Johnson got the start for Boston.
Notable players in Boston’s split squad lineup included reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedroia, first baseman Kevin Youkilis, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, shortstop Jed Lowrie and top prospect Lars Anderson, who got the start at DH in the seven inning affair.
Even though this is the sixth straight year the Huskies have scrimmaged the Red Sox, the game is still a thrill for NU manager Neil McPhee and his players.
‘Anyone who has any knowledge of baseball, especially in New England and Boston, understands that this is a lifetime moment,’ McPhee said. ‘It’s just an incredible experience for these kids.’
For junior outfielder David Gustafson, the excitement has been building since his first time playing in the annual exhibition, he said.
‘Every year we anticipate it more and more,’ he said.’ ‘The first year I didn’t know what to expect. [This year] we luck out and have a lot of the starting infield and Ellsbury [in the lineup]. It’s a thrill every year.’
‘ Gustafson, who singled off the first pitch from Josh Beckett during the 2007 exhibition, wasted little time getting started this year either. After redshirt freshman outfielder Matt Miller grounded out to start the game, Gustafson roped the first pitch from Johnson into the right-center gap for a triple.
‘I was just looking for that first pitch fastball and he left one over the plate,’ he said. ‘I was thinking sure double out of the box, but it got out there, so I took three.”
Gustafson also had a chance to face Japanese righthander Junichi Tazawa, the much heralded 22-year-old who signed with Boston in the offseason.
‘He had [several] different pitches so I had no idea what to expect,’ said Gustafson, who wound up striking out in the fourth against Tazawa. ‘I was going in looking for a fastball right off the bat, but he notched it up, he was throwing mid-90’s. He froze me with a curveball, which was a pretty good pitch.’
Senior second baseman James Donaldson was the only other Husky to get on base, walking in the fifth and smacking a single in the seventh.
Several NU hurlers turned in impressive pitching performances as well, as senior Aaron Greenblatt, junior Ryan Quigley, sophomores JT Ross and Brandon McNelis and seniors Tyler Thornton and co-captain Jeff Thomson all took the mound for the Huskies.
Thomson and Thornton each tossed a scoreless inning, striking out one and two batters, respectively. Quigley was perhaps the most impressive, blanking the Sox in the second while getting Youkilis and Lowrie to strike out looking.
‘ ‘With Youkilis, I started him off with a fastball,’ he said. ‘He swung through a slider and I luckily snuck one by him. With Lowrie, I got ahead of him and got a little too fine, but [the umpire] was able to give me the call on the backdoor slider.’
Quigley, a Taunton native who grew up a Red Sox fan, wasn’t even aware he was facing Youkilis until the first baseman dug in against him.
‘ ‘To be honest, I faced Pedroia and I wasn’t even thinking about who was next. I step on the mound and look up and there’s Youkilis staring back at me,’ he said. ‘It’s a little surreal. … It’s a fun experience.’

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