By Jake Fischer, News Correspondent
Entering the weekend of April 26, the Northeastern Huskies baseball team prepared for a crucial series against the Georgia State University Panthers. With the 2013 season transitioning into its final stretch, the Huskies found themselves fighting Hofstra University and James Madison University (JMU) for the sixth and final spot in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament in Harrisonburg, Va.
Fortunately for head coach Neil McPhee and company, Northeastern held tiebreakers over both the Hofstra Pride and the JMU Dukes, but a series victory over the Panthers at Friedman Diamond would be monumental in the conference standings.
“We are in a fight to keep the last spot in the tournament,” McPhee said. “We’ve still got three tough weekends to go. I’m very pleased that we’re in this position at this time of the season. So, now it’s just a question of playing well.”
The weekend clash featured plenty of exciting baseball, as the two clubs opened the series with a thrilling 13-inning contest – the longest game Northeastern has played since 2009 – on Friday. After the bullpen squandered another phenomenal performance from freshman James Mulry, the two CAA foes battled into the extras knotted at five runs apiece. Mulry tossed seven scoreless innings and struck out eight while only yielding two hits.
Then, in the bottom of the 13th, senior third baseman Pete Castoldi’s bloop single drove in sophomore second baseman Michael Foster for a 6-5 walk-off win. Foster also pitched the final 1.2 innings. Thus, he scored the winning run and also was the winning pitcher.
“I was kind of at a loss for words,” Foster said. “I was ecstatic. The team battled through the whole game. There were ups and downs, we came back and it just felt good to come out on top.”
Foster, a staple at second base, has been a huge aid for McPhee in situations where the bullpen has struggled this season.
“Sometimes you put too much pressure on yourself,” the Ontario native said. “But, when [the coaches] trust you like that, you can relax and know they have faith in you to do the job.”
While the victory did bring the Huskies back to .500 in the CAA standings, it did not build enough momentum to propel Northeastern to a second consecutive victory on Saturday. The home team seemingly left its bats back in Boston before they made the short trip to Brookline as the Panthers raced to an easy 6-0 victory.
“Any fan can sit there and see hitters slump,” McPhee said. “Hitters don’t go up and try not to hit. Anybody that has played the game has gone through a slump. I know exactly where they are, I have no fault with them, I have no criticism of them, it’s just the nature of the sport.”
The bats struggled again on Sunday, when the Huskies failed to capitalize on another stellar start from senior ace Kevin Ferguson. The starter went the complete nine innings and struck out 10 batters, but unfortunately gave up two home runs to deep left field. The two Panthers homers proved to be the difference in the 2-1 ball game.
“Usually late in the game I start feeling a little stronger and I just try to give my team as many innings as I can,” Ferguson said. “I just got out there and try to do my job, try to get the hitters out in order and hope for the best.”
A trip south to the University of North Carolina-Wilmington a week after the Georgia State series proved tough for the Huskies, who dropped two of three in the series against the Hawks. The weekend’s lone win came Saturday in a 1-0 decision, thanks to pitcher Nick Berger.
The sophomore put up a two-hit, shutout performance for the win and pitched all nine innings, earning him the CAA Pitcher of the Week title for the second time this season.
Tuesday, the Huskies traveled to the University of Hartford, but walked away with their second consecutive loss with a 2-1 final. They return to conference play tomorrow with a three-game series against the University of Delaware.