After opening up Colonial Athletic Association play with two tough losses Friday and Saturday, the Tribe (15-6, 1-2 CAA) recovered to win the last game of the weekend series against Northeastern (12-11, 2-1 CAA) with a 14-3 blowout Sunday, which featured senior catcher Hunter Smith’s third multi-home run game of the season and a strong relief appearance from senior pitcher Nick Butts on the mound.
Game 1 (Friday, March 22)
Friday, the Tribe got on the board right away, as senior infielder Zach Pearson scored Smith on a triple in the bottom of the first. Freshman infielder Hunter Hart then stepped up and sent Smith home on an RBI single to make the score 2-0.
The Huskies calmly erased that in the next two innings, putting up a single run each in the second and third to tie the score at 2-2. The Tribe jumped out to another lead in the bottom of the third as another Smith RBI made the score 3-2, but the Huskies once again immediately tied it in the top of the fourth.
The Huskies got out to their first lead of the game with an RBI single in the top of the sixth to make it 4-3, but the College immediately answered in the bottom of the frame. Two Tribe runners got on base on a walk and a fielder’s choice before junior catcher Matthew Trehub stepped up to the plate and scored both on a two-run triple, and the College surged ahead, 5-4.
Relief pitchers junior Jamie Sara and sophomore Randy Prosperi pitched two clean innings in the seventh and eighth to hold the Huskies off the board, and the Tribe headed into the final frame still up by one run. That was where the College ran into trouble, as Northeastern’sIan Fair hit a clutch three-run homer off redshirt junior pitcher Chris Farrell to put the visitors up, 7-5.
“What happened to Chris Farrell happens,” head coach Brian Murphy said. “He hadn’t let a run all year until that point. … The ninth inning, I thought he was in good shape until they drew a walk, they worked really hard to get some guys on base, then Ian Fair is a really good hitter and he beat us up all weekend.”
The Tribe made an effort at a comeback in the final frame, getting on base with a lead-off walk from freshman outfielder Jack Cone and then sending him home on an RBI single from Zach Pearson. With the score at 7-6 and two runners on base, the College had a chance to try and extend the game, but a swinging strikeout would end the contest in the Tribe’s first conference loss of the year.
“They’re a pretty talented team, they’ve shown that the last few years, always ranked top of the league,” Trehub said. “Pretty good at getting off to a good start on the mound, they’ve got a few guys in the lineup that can really do a few things. … They’re a pretty well-rounded team.”
Game 2 (Saturday, March 23)
Saturday was a similar story of the Tribe being overwhelmed by a late Northeastern rally. It was the Huskies who were first on the board in Game 2 with two early runs, but the Tribe tied it at 2-2 heading into the third inning from RBI doubles off of Zach Pearson and redshirt senior Kyle Wrighte. Another run in the top of the fourth put the visitors up 3-2, as the Tribe was held off of the board for five consecutive innings.
In the seventh frame, starting pitcher junior Wade Strain ran into trouble. Having held the Huskies to just three runs a strong first six innings, he allowed a lead-off double and a hit-by-pitch to start out the seventh. A pitching change couldn’t stymie the sudden flurry of Northeastern offense, as they relentlessly drilled base hits past the Tribe infield to put up six runs in the seventh and eighth innings. Zach Pearson countered with two additional RBI in the eighth, but the College couldn’t recover from the barrage of runs and were forced to concede a second conference loss, 9-4.
Despite the pair of late-inning losses, Murphy doesn’t expect any changes in the Tribe’s rotation of relief pitchers.
“Our bullpen’s been good, I’ve been really pleased with it,” Murphy said. “I think Prosperi’s been awesome, I don’t think [junior pitcher] Jamie Sara’s let up a run all year, and Farrell’s just had that one inning. So, feeling pretty good about those guys.”
Game 3 (Sunday, March 24)
Sunday, the Tribe once again immediately got on the board in the first inning off of Hunter Smith’s team-leading sixth home run of the season. The Huskies quickly tied it in the next frame, 1-1. After the tally, still with zero outs on the board and with starting pitcher freshman Zach Tsakounis stung by an errant hit that caught him in the shin, the Huskies took advantage and loaded the bases.
Tsakounis, who had allowed a season-high four consecutive hits to begin the inning, recovered to pitch one infield flyout and then force the Huskies into a neat double play. The inning ended with the damage limited to just the 1-1 tie. In the next frame, however, the Huskies answered Smith’s homer with one of their own before adding on an RBI single to surge ahead, 3-1.
In the bottom of the third frame, the Tribe got two runners in scoring position. When Hunter Smith stepped up to bat, Northeastern intentionally walked him to load the bases and face Zach Pearson instead. Zach Pearson promptly put a hit into shallow center field to score one runner and cut the Huskies’ lead to 3-2 on his sixth RBI of the weekend. Wrighte, next up in the batting order, then waited out the Northeastern pitcher through four balls to score another runner, tying the game at 3-3.
The scoring continued as Trehub took advantage of Northeastern starting pitcher Kyle Murphy’s lapse. Just like his go-ahead hit before the late-inning collapse on Friday, he put the team ahead with a two-RBI single into right center field and reclaimed the lead, 5-3.
“I think the pressure’s not necessarily on me, it’s just kind the guys in front of me getting on base,” Trehub said. “I’m just trying to keep it as simple as possible and get balls in play, let the rest take care of itself.”
Butts took over in the top of the fourth inning, throwing a clean no-hit, no-run frame to start out his time on the mound.
“After Zach Tsakounis got hit in the leg with a ball there, he had to come out, so the game was definitely in the balance,” Murphy said. “Butts did a great job.”
Smith then padded the lead with a second home run. It was his seventh homer of the season and made this the third multiple-homer game of his season and his career.
“[Smith] has had runs like this over the course of his career,” Murphy said. “He’s got a lot of timing to his swing, kind of some big moving parts to his swing. When he gets them all synched up, he gets on runs like this, and obviously he’s got really good power. … He does a great job of identifying pitches.”
Hart added an RBI triple to close out the bottom of the fifth with the home team ahead, 7-3.
The sixth inning was a long one for the Huskies and a productive one for Tribe offense, as the College racked up seven runs on three hits and an error. An RBI single from freshman outfielder Jack Cone, an RBI hit-by-pitch, a two-RBI single from Hart, a wild pitch and a two-RBI double from junior outfielder Brandon Raquet pushed the Tribe out to a 14-3 lead heading into the seventh.
Four scoreless innings from Butts and one from freshman pitcher Tristan Snyder, as well as another Trehub RBI in the seventh frame, finished out the game. The Huskies picked up a single unearned run in the final frame, but the College would claim a 15-4 victory and end the weekend series at 2-1, Northeastern. This marks the first time in three years that the Huskies have not swept the season series.
Zach Pearson ended the weekend with seven hits and six RBI on 14 at-bats, while Smith put up five hits and three RBI, including his two home runs. Although the batting order fluctuated frequently over the weekend, including Cone dropping out of his customary lead-off hitter role, the two of Smith and Pearson stayed constant at the third and fourth spots, respectively.
“I moved Hunter to third just to make sure he hits in the first inning and make sure that we give him as many opportunities as we can,” Murphy said. “… Zach, I just think, is a good guy to hit behind Hunter because Zach’s really aggressive; he doesn’t strike out very much, he doesn’t walk very much. I think after guys face Hunter, sometimes there’s a little bit of letup and Zach can capitalize on that.”
With the win, the Tribe improves to 2-1 in conference play and 15-6 overall.
“We talk about it all the time, just how you’re in conference play, how important every run is,” Trehub said. “So, we were just kind of treating today just like every game, and this one could bereal important down the line.”
The College will take a break from conference play with two midweek home games against Old Dominion and Norfolk State before traveling to North Carolina next weekend for its next CAA series against UNCW.
“Obviously, it’s a different scoreboard [in conference play],” Murphy said. “The fact that we were [14-6] coming in didn’t mean anything to anybody. It is a different type of game, and part of being good in conference play is understanding that.”