by Jake Sauberman, deputy sports editor
Northeastern University (NU) baseball finally got underway this week, as the team opened the season in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to take on Southern Mississippi University. The three game set resulted in three losses for the Huskies, but they showed encouraging signs nonetheless.
Friday’s game marked Opening Day for the Huskies, and the excitement of the occasion powered them to an early 1-0 lead on an RBI single from senior first baseman Cam Hanley. Senior right-hander Mike Fitzgerald got the starting nod after serving as NU’s shutdown closer in 2016. Despite the drastic role change, the righty was able to last five innings, allowing three runs against a loaded Southern Mississippi offense.
Head coach Mike Glavine was pleased with Fitzgerald’s performance in his first career start. After all, a move from the bullpen to the rotation changes a pitcher’s arsenal. Velocity decreases as workload increases, and that transition can prove a difficult adjustment.
“I thought he did an excellent job against a really good offense,” Glavine said. “He’s going to be our Friday guy going forward, and we’re looking for him to give us quality innings every week.”
The Huskies were able to even up the score at three following RBI singles from junior center fielder Mason Koppens and senior second baseman David Hopkins. But the Golden Eagles took control from there, scoring the next six runs including three off a blast from first baseman Dylan Burdeaux.
Senior outfielder Pat Madigan was able to get one back for the Huskies on a solo shot in the ninth, but it was too little too late, as the Golden Eagles took game one by a score of 9-4.
“[Madigan is] someone that we project to be in the middle of the lineup,” Glavine said. “He can play left, he can play right, so he gives me flexibility to play both corner positions as well as DH.”
Game two was a blowout on both sides of the ball for the Huskies. Losing 14-1, neither the offense or the pitching could get anything going.
It started early, as the Golden Eagles jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first. The opposition scoring continued relentlessly through the seventh inning—the Huskies looked up at the scoreboard to find themselves in a crooked 11-0 deficit.
Not helping the offensive woes was the utter dominance of Golden Eagles’ starter Kirk McCarty. The southpaw fired seven shutout innings, allowing just four baserunners while striking out six. The Huskies countered with a lefty of their own in sophomore Andrew Misiaszek. Command was a bit of an issue—he walked two, hit one with a pitch and threw two wild pitches in his three innings of work. The lack of control didn’t stop after Misiaszek was pulled, however, as freshmen Tom Githens and Sean Mellen and junior Will Jahn combined to walk seven more batters and hit five more.
The shutout was broken on a solo shot by senior pinch-hitter Nick Fanneron, which started a huge series for the slugger. His performance earned him the start for the series finale, and the coach’s confidence.
“[Fanneron is] a hard worker, and he’s one of the leaders on the team,” Glavine said. “He swung the bat well this winter, so I look for him to have a role for us offensively this year. He’s a really good pinch-hitter, he can DH or play some first base.”
Fanneron made his impact right away in game three of the series, kicking off the scoring with a sacrifice fly to drive in freshman third baseman Scott Holzwasser in the top of the second. This was part of a four-run second inning that the Huskies followed up with a three-run frame in the third, led by a two-run shot off the bat of Fanneron.
Staked with an early seven run lead, it looked like the Huskies would come away with their first win. But freshman starter Kyle Murphy fell apart in the third. Making his first collegiate start, the righthander allowed five runs to cross (four earned) before escaping the inning.
The Golden Eagles’ bullpen shut the Huskies down from there, combining for 6.1 innings of four-hit ball, allowing the potent lineup a chance to dig itself out of the hole. And that’s just what they did, as Southern Mississippi found a way to scratch across two more runs against junior Brian Christian to tie up the game at seven.
After blowing such a large lead, it seemed as if all the momentum belonged to the Golden Eagles. The inevitable occurred in the bottom of the ninth, when senior Nate Borges allowed a walk-off single with men on second and third. And with that, the Huskies returned to Boston 0-3 despite playing two hard-fought games.
Glavine continued to express confidence in his team, especially the pitching staff. They allowed 31 runs over the series, but Glavine chalked it up to early inexperience.
“I think there’s a lot of depth and a lot of talent,” Glavine said. “It’s going to take us a little bit to get comfortable. I don’t think this past weekend is going to be indicative of how we will pitch this year. I think pitching will be a major strength for us.”
The Huskies are scheduled to compete against a team with plenty of experience—the Boston Red Sox. On Thursday, the NU squad makes their annual trek down south to Fort Myers, where they will face off in an exhibition game against the Red Sox. For the Sox, this represents their first live game action of the new season, but for Northeastern, it’s an invaluable, once-in-a-lifetime learning experience.
“It’s awesome; it’s one of those days you circle on your calendar each year,” Glavine said. “We’ll try to get everybody into the game as much as we can […] we want to be competitive and play them well, but we also just want to enjoy the day and watch those guys work out and play.”
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics