The top-seeded Northeastern Huskies (32-9 overall) are seeking their first title this week in the Colonial Athletic Association Baseball Championship—as well as the automatic NCAA tournament bid that goes to the winner.
Northeastern, having earned a first-round bye based on its 20-3 conference record, will play its CAA opener against the lowest remaining seed Thursday at 3 p.m. in Wilmington, N.C. (The games will be streamed on FloBaseball and broadcast on WRBB 104.9 FM.)
Even if they’re upset in the double-elimination conference tournament, the Huskies may have achieved enough over the past three months to earn an at-large invitation to the 64-team NCAA event.
The Huskies won a school-record 20 straight games from April 7 to May 15, which was the longest winning streak in the nation this season. Their 18-0 conference start set a CAA record. Sophomore outfielder Jared Dupere (hitting .355 with 17 homers, 42 runs batted in, and a conference-best .789 slugging percentage) was named CAA Player of the Year. Mike Glavine earned Coach of the Year for the third time in five seasons. Cam Schlittler (7-0 and a 1.29 earned run average with 74 strikeouts in 63 innings), who will start for Northeastern on Thursday, was co-Rookie of the Year.
The Huskies lead the CAA in all three phases of the game—batting (.299), pitching (2.95 ERA) and fielding percentage (.981). Nationally, they rank third in stolen bases (2.65 per game) and fourth in earned run average (2.95).
The Huskies have earned their top seed in no small part because they’ve responded constructively to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in a shutdown of their season one year ago after a promising 10-5 start. Players and coaches were reminded of the bigger picture every time they visited the site of their indoor baseball facility at Cabot Physical Education Center, which was transformed last summer into a testing center for the Northeastern community.
“It was definitely weird being in there, knowing what we would have been doing,” says senior second baseman Scott Holzwasser, who was named to the All-CAA first team with Dupere, Schlittler, designated hitter Max Viera, and pitcher Kyle Murphy. “We definitely feel like we earned [the top seed]. We basically did anything we could to get our work in.”
He and his teammates found alternative training sites throughout the Boston area.
“We all just found a way, whether it was throwing in nets in our backyards or finding cages,” says Murphy, a senior righthander who twice this month was named CAA Pitcher of the Week. “I know a couple kids built cages and built mounds. It was pretty difficult because we weren’t always together as a team. We were in smaller groups, but we were all so focused on one thing and that was just getting better. No matter who we were with or how many kids were there, we all just knew that we had to show up, get our work in, and improve each and every day.”
The testing system that enabled the campus to reopen in September permitted Glavine to oversee the workouts last fall that gave his team an advantage—physically as well as emotionally.
“It was the best fall we’ve had, and it’s all because of what the university did,” said Glavine, a Northeastern graduate and 10-year professional baseball player who has been coaching the Huskies since 2015. “One of the emphases for our team this year has been to be loose and have fun. And that is something probably I’m not known for; I think I’m pretty fun, but they probably don’t think I am at all.”
Glavine spelled his message early in the season: “No matter what happens this year—we’ve been through a lot in life and society and baseball, in our little world—we are going to be happy and thankful and grateful. And we’re not entitled to anything and grateful for everything. We are going to enjoy every minute of this ride, and we are going to have fun and be loose, no matter what happens.”
After blowing a couple of early-season leads at powerhouses Wake Forest and Old Dominion, the Huskies realized their own potential and committed to fulfilling it. Making good on their high ranking with so much at stake can create a lot of pressure this week in Wilmington, but they’re ahead of that too.
“We talk about things more,” says Glavine. “We’ve talked about the winning streak every single day. Why are we hiding this? We know we have the nation’s longest winning streak. We own it and have some fun with it, because there’s certain pressure that comes with that.
“With the tournament, it’s the same thing. We’re coming in as the one seed—and we haven’t won the tournament, fellas, and everyone knows it. So why don’t we talk about it.”
And this is how Glavine ends the conversation: “This is the year we’re going to do it.”