Huskies clinch No. 1 seed, fall short of CAA title

Junior righthander Brian Christian leads the Huskies to a sweep of the College of William & Mary / Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics

Junior righthander Brian Christian leads the Huskies to a sweep of the College of William & Mary / Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics

by Jake Sauberman, sports editor

Northeastern University baseball closed out the regular season on May 20 by clinching the top overall seed in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) baseball standings for the first time since 2005. Ending the season at 16-7 and riding a six-game winning streak, the Red and Black gave their rivals no chance to make up ground in the standings before ultimately falling short in the CAA tournament.

The streak started in Williamsburg, Virginia on May 11 as the Huskies took both games of a rain-shortened series against conference rival College of William & Mary.

The first game saw senior righthander Nate Borges turn in another impressive start after taking over the starting role several weeks ago. He allowed two early runs but was lights out the rest of the way, lasting six innings and striking out four. The Huskies’ offense was unable to put much in play, striking out 13 times, but the few instances of contact proved fruitful. A home run by senior infielder Cam Hanley led the charge as Northeastern tallied 9 hits to take the 6-3 victory.

Game two was a predictably low-scoring affair. Breakout star junior Brian Christian took the hill for the Huskies, firing seven shutdown innings and punching out nine. His control was impeccable throughout; he walked none and kept the Tribe hitters off-balance. The lineup, paced by junior shortstop Max Burt’s solo shot and a pair of RBIs from senior designated hitter Nick Fanneron, gave Christian and the Huskies all they needed to earn the 3-1 win.

Northeastern headed to Connecticut on May 15 to take on the other Huskies, handing the University of Connecticut a 5-3 loss in the non-conference game.

Thursday, May 18 marked the start of the last series of the regular season, as Northeastern hosted James Madison University (JMU) at the Friedman Diamond. Sitting a half-game behind the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW), the Huskies did not take the lowly 7-14 JMU squad lightly.

Backed by strong starts from Borges and Christian before a bullpen-led effort on senior day, the Huskies swept aside the Dukes in three games.

Borges went six innings, giving up one run in the series opener en route to the 4-3 win. Senior outfielder Jimmy Hand backed the effort with an RBI single in the second to get the Huskies on the board, before extending the lead with a two-run blast in the sixth.

Christian was fantastic once again, improving to 7-2 on the season after spinning eight innings of one-run ball. Sophomore designated hitter Ryan Solomon was the offensive star in this one, driving in five on a bases-clearing double in the sixth before a two-run homer in the eighth put the game away as the Huskies ran away with the 6-2 victory.

Senior day was a mix of celebration and competition for the Huskies, as the tight-knit nature of the standings demanded that they put their focus on the win above all else. Before the game, the team honored its nine seniors, and the starting lineup showed off four: Hanley, Fanneron, Hand and Pat Madigan drew starts.

“What a group; I’m going to miss these guys,” head coach Mike Glavine said. “They’ve made the [CAA] tournament every year, and now they’ve had the highest finish [in their careers].”

Freshman starter David Stiehl lasted just one inning in a game that featured five different Husky pitchers, but five RBIs from the unit of Northeastern seniors showed the program what it would be missing next season as it led the Huskies to a hard-fought 7-6 win.

The sweep vaulted them over UNCW in the standings and clinched the No. 1 seed heading into the CAA tournament.

“It’s a little extra special, I’m not going to lie,” Glavine said. “I’m so proud of what these guys have accomplished. They’ve worked so hard for it; it’s not by accident.”

Determined to send their senior class out with a CAA title under its belt, the Huskies got off to a bumpy start playing No. 4 seed and eventual CAA champion University of Delaware in the first round on May 25.

The Huskies sent Christian to the mound, and he responded with a valiant effort, holding the hot-hitting Blue Hens to five runs over seven innings. Combined with two scoreless relief innings from freshman Kyle Murphy, it was a good enough performance to normally get a win, but Delaware pitching proved stingy.

Homers from Hanley and freshman infielder Scott Holzwasser along with an RBI single from Solomon were all the Huskies could muster, as they dropped the game 5-3.

The Huskies were back at it the next day with their backs against the wall, squaring off with No. 5 College of Charleston.

Facing elimination, Northeastern deployed Borges, who threw 6.1 innings and allowed four runs, just two of which were earned. The Huskies got two hits apiece from Holzwasser, Burt, Hand and Madigan, riding a four-run sixth inning to the 8-3 win.

But with the semifinals the following day against No. 2 UNCW, the Huskies’ rotation depth was all but worn out.

Northeastern was forced to send out sophomore Andrew Misiaszek for the start, who had settled into a bullpen role following a rough transition to the starting rotation. The lefty lasted two innings, giving up five runs before senior Mike Fitzgerald came on in relief. Fitzgerald went the next four, allowing two runs. Ultimately, the pitching woes had little effect on the outcome of the game, as the offense was silenced by the Seahawks.

Sophomore Logan Beehler went eight innings for UNCW, allowing just two hits. He only struck out four, but seemingly everything the Huskies put in play found a mitt. Out-hit 14-2, Northeastern ended their season on a low note, eliminated from the tournament 10-1.

Despite the sour finish, Northeastern showed that its baseball program has exciting prospects in the future. Predicted to finish seventh in the conference by coaches, the Huskies shocked the CAA by finishing first on the heels of a six-game winning streak.

The loss of its nine seniors will be felt next year, but breakout seasons from returning players like Holzwasser (team-leading seven home runs), Christian (7-3 record and a 3.59 ERA), Burt (CAA Defensive Player of the Year and team-leading 21 extra-base hits), sophomore Charlie McConnell (41 runs and 18 extra-base hits) and freshman Brian Rodriguez (3.07 ERA in relief) give the Huskies plenty of reason to expect another successful season.

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