By Ethan Schroeder, news staff

The Northeastern baseball team enjoyed a wealth of success at Friedman Diamond this past weekend, sweeping James Madison University (JMU) to improve to 6-3 at home on the season.

Having lost six of its last seven games going into the series, the Huskies (14-21) were looking for a strong pivot against the Dukes. Senior pitcher Nick Berger started NU’s first home games of April strongly. He took the mound Friday and shutting out the Dukes in eight innings of work en route to a 1-0 victory.

Paired with sophomore closer Aaron Civale, Berger earned his second combined shutout of the season in the win. Berger struck out five and allowed only seven hits; not one JMU hitter advanced to third base at any point in the game. Ky Parrott, JMU’s sophomore designated hitter leading the team with a .310 batting average, was struck out four times by Berger on Friday.

“I was able to get ahead of [Parrott], and then make my pitches and have him go after those late in the count,” Berger said. “When you’re working ahead in the count, you’re in control and that helps a lot.”

The 6-foot 2-inch hurler from Cormack, N.Y. earned his second Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Pitcher of the Week honor for his performance on Friday.

“Offensively, we couldn’t get anything going, and for [Berger] to pitch the way he did and keep us in the game the whole way and keep putting up zeros – he was awesome,” Head Coach Mike Glavine said.

While Berger got the win, JMU redshirt junior starter Aaron Hoover also pitched well in eight innings on the mound. Hoover struck out five and allowed only one earned run. Unfortunately for the Dukes, one run is all it would take with Berger and Civale pitching for the Huskies. An RBI double from redshirt junior shortstop Michael Foster scored freshman second baseman Maxwell Burt from first base in the bottom of the eighth, giving NU just enough support to sneak away with the win.

“Foster’s got a big bat and he came through big time,” Glavine said. “Give Max credit for running the bases hard and scoring from first – it turned out to be all we needed.”

The pitchers came through again for Saturday’s matinee. The Huskies only managed four hits over the course of the game, but the home team found enough success in the bottom of the second to hold JMU in a 3-2 win.

NU sophomore starter Dustin Hunt added to his team-leading strikeout total with eight more in a seven-inning effort. Through nine starts, his total currently sits at 51. Between the third and seventh innings, Hunt found his rhythm and retired 12 straight batters.

“The guys feed off of him,” Glavine said. “He throws hard and his breaking ball is coming along well. He’s competitive and holds runners well. He’s just a really good pitcher and usually every time he pitches, we’re in the game.”

NU made the most out of its minimal hitting on a windy Saturday with a three-run second inning. The effort was jumpstarted by a single from sophomore third baseman Cam Hanley; redshirt junior catcher Josh Treff knocked him in the next at-bat with an RBI double. A total of five Husky batters reached base in the frame off of three hits and two errors.

“We’ve just been trying to string hits together,” Treff said in reference to Saturday’s scoring. “I came up in a spot and was able to get something going for the team. The coaches put some steals on to put pressure on the team and it worked out for us well.”

JMU refused to go quietly. With only three runs to make up, the Dukes remained poised at the plate, and responded to the Huskies production in the second with a run of their own in the third. The run came off of a throwing error from Burt. Five innings later, JMU had another threatening inning. With three singles in its first four at-bats, the visiting team found itself down only 3-2, with runners on first and third. NU redshirt sophomore reliever Mike Fitzgerald forced a double-play groundball on his next batter, however, saving the Huskies’ lead. The score would remain for the game’s conclusion, giving NU the chance for a series sweep.

“Mike’s pitched great for us,” Glavine said. “Whenever he gives up a run, it’s almost surprising. He got a huge pitch on that double play ball. I’ve got to give all the credit to the two freshmen on that one. That ball was hit hard at Nolan [Lang] and he didn’t hesitate fielding it cleanly and made a great throw to Max [Burt]. That was the play of the game.”

Both teams came out with a substantial increase in offensive production on Sunday. The Huskies weathered a strong start from the Dukes and finished strongly to complete the series on a 7-5 win. NU earned its second straight home series sweep with the victory.

Although the Huskies committed four errors in the game, it was the Dukes who suffered from their mistakes. A balk from senior starter Derek Shifflett allowed NU to score the game’s first run in the bottom of the first.

Despite the initial deficit, JMU was able to take its first lead of the series in the very next frame with three runs of its own off of NU junior starter James Mulry. Kicked off by a leadoff triple from freshman second baseman Kyle McPherson, JMU put five runners on base in the inning. Three walks from Mulry escalated the matter, putting the Huskies in a hole.

Led by hitting from Foster, NU soon took control of the lead yet again with runs in three straight innings. Foster went 3-5 on the day with three runs and an RBI double in the fifth inning. Along with sophomore outfielder Pat Madigan and redshirt junior second baseman Keith Kelly, NU’s first three batters accounted for six of the team’s eight hits.

The Huskies’ bullpen made quick work of the Dukes lineup. Senior reliever Isaac Lippert and Civale allowed one earned run on four hits over five innings. The lone run came in the eighth inning off the bat of JMU redshirt junior shortstop Kyle Weston. Lippert earned his third win of the season and Civale notched his fourth save.

“We’re in the driver’s seat right now,” Berger said. “We’re playing pretty well in conference so we’ve just got to keep that rolling. We’re in a good spot.”

Hoping to ride a wave of momentum, NU traveled to Hamden, Conn. on Wednesday to take on Quinnipiac University. A lack of base hits proved to be the Huskies’ downfall, as only four batters made it on base and the Quinnipiac Bobcats cruised to a 5-1 victory.

Quinnipiac freshman starter Charlie Murray set the tone from the beginning by retiring the game’s first three batters. Murray did not allow a hit from the Huskies until the top of the fifth inning. The Bobcats’ three pitchers that appeared on Wednesday allowed only one hit apiece and combined for eight strikeouts. The Huskies’ lone run came from a Hanley solo with two outs in the game’s final frame.

NU started off just as strong defensively, but the Bobcats offense strung hits together off of freshman right-hander Brian Christian in the fourth inning. Junior center fielder Mike Palladino led things off with a double, scoring two batters later. A two-run home run from first baseman Vincent Guglietti signaled the end of Christian’s day after 3.1 innings.

A second Quinnipiac home run in the bottom of the sixth inning gave the Bobcats a 5-0 advantage, one from which the Huskies could not recover. Hanley’s home run saved Northeastern from a shutout, but could not spur a ninth-inning rally, as NU dropped its fourth straight road game.

The Huskies return home this weekend, hoping to continue their success at Friedman Diamond with a three-game series against the New York Institute of Technology.

Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics