‘Once the nerves came out, it’s all baseball.’ Northeastern baseball team nearly pulls out victory over Red Sox

A Northeastern baseball player is at bat. The stands behind him are full of fans.
Northeastern University baseball team plays the Boston Red Sox at jetBlue Park during 2023 Grapefruit League Major League Baseball Spring Training at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. Photo by Billie Weiss for Northeastern University

FORT MYERS, Fla.—Over the course of a little more than two hours Friday afternoon, Northeastern University baseball players went from being in awe to being on the attack.

From being overwhelmed to being aggressive.

From losing big early to nearly tying late.

As they’ve done in all 19 games they’ve faced the Huskies, the Boston Red Sox prevailed; but it wasn’t so easy this time.

The 5-3 victory was Boston’s second-closest win over Northeastern. The Red Sox won, 2-1, in 2015. The teams last played in 2020.

Northeastern coach Mike Glavine joked that, “You don’t know if you ever want to win because then you’ll never get invited back.

“We wanted to have fun but we wanted to compete. I thought our position players were outstanding. They didn’t look too overmatched. Their at-bats were strong and they ran the bases well.”

With Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun cheering on the team and 1982 Northeastern graduate and Naples resident Ray Ciccolo throwing out the first pitch before a crowd of 5,922, the Huskies fell behind, 5-0, in the first inning.

But while Huskies’ relievers Patrick Harrington, Will Jones, James Morice and Carson Walsh blanked Boston the rest of the way, Northeastern scored two runs in the fourth and once in the fifth to draw close.

“It’s definitely a little intimidating at first,” Jones said. “They’re pro baseball players and you know everybody can take you deep so you stick to the process.

“But you have to think of them just as another team, play them and do what you’ve been doing the past 20 years of your life. It’s another group of guys you’re trying to keep from hitting a white ball.”

It can be easier said than done. 

As center-fielder Mike Sirota said, “These are guys you watch at Fenway or play video games against so to play on the same field as them is surreal.”

Shortstop Spenser Smith, who competed in 2019 and 2020 games against Boston, said it was less of a shell-shock, “But you are playing against guys getting paid $20 million.”

Taking advantage of Northeastern’s nerves, Boston took a 1-0 lead on a Rafael Devers’ RBI single. He then scored on a sacrifice fly after going to second and third on wild pitches.

Four Red Sox walks and Emmanuel Valdez’s two-run double made it 5-0.

The 85-degree sun never felt hotter.

However, Harrington entered and quieted the Red Sox for 2-2/3 innings.

“The first inning is always the hardest,” Glavine said. “A beautiful stadium, people in the stands, the Boston Red Sox in the batter’s box. The nerves are there.

“Once that’s out, we had a lot of fun and played really well. We made all the plays, didn’t make an error. The pitchers pitched well, we stole bases.”

Momentum turned in the fourth when Sirota belted an RBI double off the center-field wall to score Smith.

“I missed it a little bit but it was good enough to get it off the wall,” Sirota said. “At the start, everyone was a little shaky. We were a little down, per say. But after a while, everyone started to put their barrels on the ball.”

Smith added, “When Mike hit that double, it was our first hard hit. I scored. I thought, ‘Oh, wait we can do this.’”

On second after his double, Sirota’s first thought was to stay aggressive. So he stole third. That was one of three Northeastern stolen bases.

“I figured they’d never expect it,” he said. “We always try being aggressive on the bases. Steals and dirty-ball reads are a big part of our game.”

Left-fielder Harrison Feinberg kept the daring baserunning going by walking, going to second on another walk, to third on a steal and home on an errant throw.

“That’s our mindset as a team,” Smith said. “To be aggressive.”

Meanwhile, the Northeastern pitchers allowed just four hits and two walks in the final five innings.

“We pride ourselves on being ready, throwing a few pitches, coming in and dominating,” pitcher James Morice said. “We have a good group of guys. It’s promising. We kept the energy going and hopefully, we’ll keep doing it.”

Lane almost made things real interesting when he blasted a drive out of JetBlue Park.

But it wouldn’t stay fair.

“That was a bomb,” Sirota said. “Way out.”

Feinberg walked and worked his way to third but wound up stranded.

Final score: Boston 5, Northeastern 3.

“It’s a great day for the fans, for the alumni and for the program,” Glavine said. “I definitely saw confidence build after the first inning. Once the nerves came out, it’s all baseball.

“It’s coach speak but if we keep playing like we did today, there’s a confidence piece we can take and we will take.”

The Huskies next will have a three-game series with Indiana State on Saturday and Sunday at the Snowbird Baseball Classic in Port Charlotte, Florida.