The top-seeded Huskies earned their first title in the Colonial Athletic Association Baseball Championship with a trio of dramatic victories during a high-pressure weekend in Wilmington, N.C. The triumph propels Northeastern (36-10) into the NCAA tournament for the second time in four years.
The Huskies learned Monday that they’ll be opening the 64-team NCAA Division I Baseball Championship against Nebraska (31-12), champion of the Big Ten, in a four-team regional at Fayetteville, Ark. Northeastern will play Nebraska on Friday at 8 p.m. EDT. The game will be streamed on ESPN3.
Joining Northeastern in the double-elimination regional will be No. 1 seed and Southeastern Conference champion Arkansas (46-10), which will open at home against New Jersey Institute of Technology (26-22), making its NCAA tournament debut as champion of America East.
Northeastern won the conference championship Sunday with an 11-10 comeback victory against tournament host North Carolina-Wilmington on a 10th-inning walk-off home run by freshman Max Viera, who flung his helmet skyward like a graduation cap as he approached home plate to be met by celebrating teammates. One inning earlier, trailing 10-9 against CAA pitcher of the year Landen Roupp, Ben Malgeri homered to save the Huskies and force the extra inning.
Malgeri homered twice in the championship game and hit five homers overall to earn the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.
“Crazy, crazy game,” said Northeastern’s Mike Glavine, the CAA Coach of the Year. “Our guys wouldn’t give up, wouldn’t take no for an answer, and they kept fighting.”
The tension was multiplied by Northeastern’s rivalry with No. 2 seed UNCW (32-22), which filled its stadium with home fans while making its sixth straight appearance in the CAA championship game.
The Huskies’ dream of winning their first-ever CAA title was cast into doubt when they lost Friday night to UNCW, 8-4. That result in the double-elimination tournament would force Northeastern to win its next three games over a span of 28 hours—including the final two against UNCW.
On Saturday afternoon, Northeastern won its first elimination game, 5-1, over the College of Charleston (27-25) on a two-run homer by Jared Dupere, the CAA player of the year, and behind seven reliable innings from Sebastian Keane (6-1). That victory pushed the Huskies into the final against undefeated UNCW, which needed to win only one of the two championship games against the Huskies.
In the initial title game Saturday night, the Huskies grabbed a 4-0 lead but surrendered two runs each in the seventh and eighth innings. The Huskies broke the tie with three runs in the top of the 10th on a sacrifice fly by Danny Crossen and a two-run single by Malgeri. In the bottom of the inning, David Stiehl came on to snuff out a UNCW rally and save the 7-5 victory.
The long weekend culminated in a spectacular finish Sunday. Dupere set a Northeastern record with his 21st homer of the season in the first inning as the Huskies ran out to a 6-2 lead through three. But UNCW stormed back by scoring in six consecutive innings to seize a 10-9 advantage in the eighth.
UNCW’s Roupp had struck out five consecutive Huskies when Malgeri (2 for 5 with two homers, three RBIs and three runs scored) led off the bottom of the ninth with a homer to left-center. Viera followed with his game-winner one inning later. Brian Rodriguez (3-0) retired six of UNCW’s final seven batters to earn the victory in two scoreless innings of relief.
“I’ve already had some people say it was the greatest college baseball game they’ve ever been to,” Glavine said from the field after the CAA championship. “From start to finish, they never quit and they never give up. They’ve gone through so much this year, overcome so many obstacles, and I’m just so happy that they were able to overcome the one on the field.”
Advancing to the NCAAs is a just reward for the Huskies, who won a school-record 20 straight games from April 7 to May 15—the longest winning streak in the nation this season. Their 18-0 conference start set a CAA record.