by Jake Sauberman, deputy sports editor
It was an eventful week for the Northeastern University (NU) baseball team, which took full advantage of spring break by participating in the Snowbird Baseball Classic in sunny Port Charlotte, Florida.
The Huskies (6-8 overall) played seven different teams in seven games, gaining valuable insight about its roster and the specific roles for each player. Competing against seven unique opponents, however, created a difficult coaching challenge for manager Mike Glavine.
“What I try to do is ultimately worry about ourselves and what we are doing,” Glavine said. “Baseball can be a sport where you’re looking at so many numbers and scouting reports and tendency charts, and you lose focus on what you’re good at. So what we tried to focus on is ourselves.”
The Huskies went 4-3 over the life of the tournament, starting on Saturday, March 4, against Ball State University. NU took a 6-5 loss on a rough start from senior right-handed pitcher Mike Fitzgerald. After the former closer’s first two encouraging starts, Saturday represented his first struggles as a starter, giving up five runs in six innings.
On the offensive side, sophomore Cam Walsh, whose season batting average now sits at .400, went 4-4 with a double. Senior first baseman Cam Hanley and junior shortstop Max Burt each went 2-5 with an RBI to help the comeback effort, but Ball State held onto their lead to take the win.
It was the Huskies who got off to a hot start in their next game against Chicago State University, tallying seven runs in the first three innings. Junior center fielder Mason Koppens combined with Walsh and Hanley for 11 hits and eight RBIs, bailing sophomore southpaw Andrew Misiaszek out of another difficult start. Misiaszek went 2.2 innings, allowing five runs. Junior righty Brian Christian provided much-needed relief help, throwing 5.1 innings and striking out five. The dichotomy of the two pitchers’ performances caught Glavine’s eye.
“Misiaszek is going to go to the bullpen,” Glavine said. “He’s comfortable with this role that I have him back in because he did it last year, and he did a great job for us.”
Meanwhile, Glavine said Christian will be inserted into the Huskies’ rotation, following solid relief work and, more recently, an exceptional first start against Lehigh University.
But first, NU would take back-to-back victories against Central Michigan University, 9-8, and the University of Toledo, 9-2. The latter game featured left-handed freshman Sean Mellen taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning, earning him CAA Rookie of the Week.
“We have to get the consistency going on the mound, but we had a great start from [Sean] Mellen,” Glavine said.
The three game winning streak was broken by a 14-7 loss to Western Michigan University, fueled by an eight-run comeback in the eighth allowed by Misiaszek.
The 12-6 win over Lehigh represented the pinnacle of what the Huskies can do when they get good pitching to support their hot hitting. Hanley, Burt and sophomore infielder Charlie McConnell combined for eight hits while junior infielder Zach Perry went 3-3 with six RBIs. Meanwhile, new starter Brian Christian went seven strong innings, showing no sign of stamina limitations that normally come with a move from the bullpen to the rotation. He allowed four hits for one run and struck out 10.
“We’ve shown what we can do when we put it all together, so now the next step is to find that consistency with our hitting, defense and pitching,” Glavine said. “I’m trying to figure what I have in this team, and who should play where and who should be batting in what spot in the order.”
Glavine has shown the willingness to experiment with his roster, tinkering the lineup and rotation to find the perfect fits. The bottom half of the batting order in particular has been an ever-revolving door, which Glavine attributes to trying to get more players involved and seeing who sticks.
“I’m trying to get as many guys in as possible to give them the opportunity to show what they can do,” Glavine said. “I’m still trying to figure these things out and balance them, and focus on winning games at the same time. I just have to do a better job myself of putting us in a position to win.”
His window to freely experiment ended with Sunday’s game against Bucknell University. Despite dropping the game 9-7, freshman righty Kyle Murphy had his best start of the season, hurling five innings of two-run ball, striking out four. On the other side of the ball, Hanley and Burt continued streaking with two hits a piece, and senior designated hitter Nick Fanneron chipped in two of his own.
With the Snowbird Baseball Classic in the books, the Huskies will resume regular season play against the University of Cincinnati on March 17. Traveling to Ohio, the conditions will be a stark contrast from the southern sun the team has enjoyed. Glavine views any challenge as a chance to improve.
“The weather is going to be completely different from what we had in Florida, but it’s what we’re used to up here,” Glavine said. “That’s what this early season is about: Putting the team in another position to deal with some adversity so in the long haul, it will make us better.”
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics