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Huskies celebrate the walk-off home run that won the CAA title.

Huskies open NCAA baseball tournament on Friday against Nebraska

The Huskies believe the big plays they made last weekend in three elimination games to win the CAA title will help them on Friday against Nebraska in the opener of the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship. Photo by Jim Pierce

The hot Huskies (36-10) will open the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship under challenging circumstances as the No. 3 seed against No. 2 Nebraska (31-12), champion of the Big Ten. Northeastern’s game in Fayetteville, Ark., will be streamed by ESPN3 on Friday at 8 p.m. EDT.

The Huskies are underdogs in what may be the most difficult four-team regional of the NCAA tournament. It’s the only regional comprised entirely of automatic qualifiers as conference champions, with a combined record of 139-54—the best of the 64-team event.

One team will advance this weekend from the double-elimination Fayetteville regional. Win or lose on Friday, the Huskies will be moving on to a game on Saturday against either the host team, Arkansas (46-10), the Southeastern Conference champion and the NCAA’s No. 1 seed overall; or its opening opponent, No. 4 New Jersey Institute of Technology (26-22), which is making its NCAA tournament debut as champion of America East.

The Huskies celebrated their first-ever CAA title last weekend. Is an even bigger victory in store this weekend at Fayetteville? Photo by Jim Pierce

Northeastern is appearing in its second NCAA tournament under coach Mike Glavine, who also led the Huskies to the 2018 regional. Overall, the Huskies are 0-8 in regional games and 6-16 in the NCAA tournament, and seek their first victory in the NCAA tournament since 1997.

But that history bears little relevance to this team on the tailwinds of its first-ever title in the Colonial Athletic Association Baseball Championship, thanks to three dramatic victories last weekend in Wilmington, N.C. Northeastern won the conference championship Sunday with an 11-10 comeback victory against tournament host North Carolina-Wilmington that featured a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth by Ben Malgeri (winner of the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award) and a walk-off homer in the 10th from freshman Max Viera.

Following a breakout regular season that included a school-record 20 straight wins—the longest streak in the nation this season—as well as a CAA-record 18-0 conference start, Glavine believes his players earned confidence by making plays when they had to in Wilmington.

“There was pressure those last three games and the guys performed incredibly well offensively, defensively, on the mound—and we had to use a lot of guys to do it,” said Glavine, who won his third CAA Coach of the Year award this season. “So I’m certainly happy to be able to use those games as an experience this weekend.”

Northeastern ranks No. 3 nationally in earned run average (2.99), stolen bases (2.56 per game), and walks and hits per inning pitched (1.11). Additionally, the Huskies are among the top 10 in fielding percentage (.981) and strikeouts/walks ratio (3.29). Their lineup revolves around All-American sophomore outfielder Jared Dupere, who leads the nation in homers per game (0.46) and was Player of the Year in the CAA.

“They’re a very, very good team,” says Nebraska’s Will Bolt, the Big Ten coach of the year who is focused on the Huskies’ aggressive baserunning and solid pitching. “There’s a reason they’ve pitched at such a high level—it’s because all of their guys seem to have a similar mentality and they all have good stuff.”

This is the first baseball meeting between Northeastern and nationally-ranked Nebraska, which is competing in the NCAA tournament for the 17th time (including three appearances in the College World Series at Omaha, which is reserved for the NCAA’s final eight teams). 

The Huskies will start redshirt freshman Sebastian Keane (6-1, 3.93 earned run average), a 6-foot-3-inch righthander who came to Northeastern despite being picked by the Boston Red Sox in the 11th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball draft. In a CAA elimination game last weekend against Charleston, Keane allowed one run and four hits in seven innings.

Keane is opening the NCAAs because he is well rested, says Glavine. Northeastern ace Cam Schlittler (8-0, 1.72) will get the start on Saturday.

Opposing Keane will be lefty Cade Povich (6-1, 2.82), who made the All-Big Ten first team. Nebraska is led by its dual-threat closer, Spencer Schwellenbach, the Big Ten player of the year who struck out 29 and walked six in 25.1 innings with a 0.71 earned run average; Schwellenbach also leads the Cornhuskers with 35 RBIs. Third baseman Max Anderson (.337 with seven homers and 32 RBIs) was Big Ten freshman of the year, and Jaxon Hallmark led Nebraska with a .341 batting average.

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