Baseball team sets sights on winning conference title

After spending the first month of the season on the road, the Northeastern University baseball team will open the home portion of its schedule on Friday afternoon against the University of Buffalo. Here are three things you need to know before the Huskies take the field, with insight from head coach Mike Glavine and team captain Josh Treff.

Pitching, pitching, pitching

Northeastern opened the 2016 campaign with two consecutive wins against then No. 30 Oklahoma, besting the Sooners in a pair of low-scoring games. The victories—3-2 and 5-3—underscored the strength of the Huskies’ pitching staff, their biggest asset this season.

The club’s three primary starters—Aaron Civale, Dustin Hunt, and James Mulry–have combined to strike out 69 hitters in 71.2 innings pitched.

Civale is the staff ace, leading the team with 30 punch-outs in 30 innings and a 2.40 ERA. He is 6-feet-2-inches tall, weighs 215 pounds, and throws a 94-mile-per-hour fastball.

“Aaron is one of the best pitchers around, no doubt about it,” Glavine said. “He can command both sides of the plate with his fastball, throw strikes, and field his position very well.”

Treff, the catcher, echoed his coach: “Every time Aaron has the ball, we know we have a really good chance to win,” he said. “He has clear control of the game and knows what he wants to do on the mound.”

The biggest surprise has been freshman reliever Andrew Misiaszek, a southpaw with a low-90s fastball and a sharp curve. “Miz,” as Glavine calls him, has limited hitters to a .184 batting average in 10.2 innings pitched while striking out 10.

“For a freshman, his composure and his ability to hold runners on base is advanced,’’ Glavine said. “He has a really good breaking ball and swing and miss stuff.”

‘On base machine’

Through the season’s first 15 games, the Huskies’ team batting average is .220. As a group, they’ve scored only 57 runs and hit two long balls.

“I think our power is going to drop this year,” said Glavine. Noting the loss of Rob Fonseca, who hit 15 home runs in 2015 and then left Northeastern to turn pro, he added: “We’re not going to have one guy hit a bunch of home runs like we did last season, but we will have a few players hit three or four each.”

Pat Madigan is a prime example. A 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound righty, he hit five home runs last season and went yard for the first and only time this year in a loss to Abilene Christian University. As the team’s primary power hitter, he will be counted on to come through with the game on the line. He’s currently hitting .278 with a slugging percentage of .389, good for second best on the team.

“He’s someone who can get big hits with runners in scoring position,” Glavine said. “He’s been pitched awfully tough early on and he’s off to a good start, but his best baseball is ahead of him.”

The biggest surprise in the batter’s box has been leadoff hitter Keith Kelly, a feisty hitter with a team-leading .327 batting average and .478 on base percentage. After hitting just .213 in his first 127 at-bats as a college player, the redshirt senior has been making the most of his increased playing time.

“He’s very consistent and sets the table for the team at the top of the order,” Treff said. “He always finds a way to get on base.” Noted Glavine: “He’s an on-base machine, whether it’s by getting hit by a pitch, taking a walk, or getting a two-strike hit.”

‘I believe in this team’

The Huskies have lofty ambitions for 2016. Said Glavine: “Our goal is to win 30 games, make the tournament, and win the conference championship.”

He noted that their monthlong road trip to begin the season has prepared them for Colonial Athletic Association play, which will begin on March 25 in Virginia against James Madison. The players bonded on the road, he explained, growing closer as they traveled from Oklahoma to Texas to Florida to Washington, facing strong competition amid a grueling travel schedule.

“I put this team under stress on purpose with the hope that it would pay off for us as the season goes on,” he said. “I believe in this team, and I believe we’re only going to get better from here on out.”

Treff likes the club’s makeup too, pointing to its depth as one of its most important intangibles. “We’ll have 14 different players starting every weekend,” he said. “Everyone is going to make an impact on these games.”

As for his expectations: “I’m optimistic. The numbers will come and we’ll get rolling.”