In their return to the diamond, Northeastern baseball has one of the best seasons in program history.
By Matt Levin
On March 11, 2020, Northeastern baseball beat Hartford 3-1 on a frigid but sunny day for their 10th win in 12 games. The Huskies were rolling. However, their success would be dried up by the CAA’s announcement that all athletics would be postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 virus.
“I got a call,” head coach Mike Glavine told The Athletic right after the season got canceled. “I knew it was big trouble.”
The news was heartbreaking for the players who had worked so hard to have a successful season. Fortunately, every player received an extra year of eligibility to make up for what COVID-19 had taken from them. Key contributing seniors committed to return to school for another season, sticking it out as fifth or even sixth year players. When combined with a dominant freshman class in 2021, it appeared as though Northeastern baseball would have one of their most deep and talented teams ever.
2021 was filled with triumph for the Huskies. The team tied the 1991 team with a 20 game win streak in the regular season. They not only tied the program record for season wins (36), but took the record for conference wins in the season (20). To top it off, they captured the programs first ever CAA Championship crown in a historic game against UNCW.
The team featured a loaded batting lineup consisting of returning fifth years, second baseman Scott Holzwasser and infielder Ian Fair, redshirt sophomore power hitter outfielder Jared Dupere, and young breakout stars with freshman infielder Max Viera and redshirt sophomore utility man Danny Crossen. Not only was their lineup loaded, but their pitching rotation was filled with talent, including redshirt freshman Cam Schlittler, redshirt freshman Sebastian Keane, and redshirt senior Kyle Murphy. They had great talent, but they also had great depth – an incredibly useful asset in the COVID era of sports.
From the beginning, it was the leadership of the fifth and sixth year players who brought the team together.
“[The older players] set the tone from the first fall practice and the meetings leading up to it, all the way through the season,” Glavine said. “That trickled down through all the returning players and, of course, our freshmen, so really all the credit goes to those fifth and sixth year guys.”
Freshman infielder Max Viera agreed. “They really taught me how to be a good baseball player and how to build good habits and be a good teammate.”
Pitcher, Cam Schlittler, praised returning sixth year pitcher Kyle Murphy for mentoring him and the other younger pitchers.
“He was the guy we looked at if we had questions,” Schlittler said. “Even for the relievers, everyone looked up to him and respected him, and it stayed that way the whole season.”
Every player embraced the leadership philosophy in an unprecedented year where strong leadership was needed to keep everyone on the same page. Glavine praised his players’ preparedness while juggling uncertainty in the offseason.
“I think it was all on the players; they were just awesome. All the leadership and everything, they just wanted to get out there and play,” Glavine said. “Obviously, coming off a year with a season being canceled, and then no summer ball, and then so much uncertainty all fall into winter and spring – all the credit really goes to the guys and what they brought to the table, the organization, leadership, and just getting together as much as they could.”
In their third game of the season, the Huskies pulled off an impressive 14-11 victory over 17th ranked Wake Forest, led by eight Schlittler strikeouts and a Holzwasser grand slam. This game showed the team’s true potential. However, despite this impressive outing, the Huskies would begin their season slower than expected. Their record of 10-6 by the start of April was not the hot start that they had envisioned.
In April, the rust of not playing for a full year fell off and everything started to fall into place. Starting on April 7, the Huskies wouldn’t lose another game until May 15.
“We were just unstoppable,” Viera said. “I mean, the pitchers were pitching and we were hitting, playing good defense. I think what separated us during that streak versus other games was we’re all one team; we’re all pushing for each other. Everything was clicking.”
Glavine also saw everything begin to click. “We won games in all different ways… stolen bases, power pitching, defense,” he said. “Once we ended up having the longest win streak in the country, we just started talking about it every day, actually. We didn’t hide behind it. It was something we embraced and wanted, and the guys owned it and did a great job with it.”
The winning streak concluded with an exclamation point in a 26-4 win over the University of Delaware. The 26 runs and the 22-run margin of victory were both Northeastern records.
It was clear that Northeastern was the team to beat in the CAA. With a record of 32-9 and a conference record of 20-3, the Huskies earned the number one seed in the tournament, as they attempted to earn their first ever CAA Championship.
They were destined to face six-time CAA champion and traditional conference powerhouse UNCW. After splitting the first two games, the stage was set for a winner-take-all championship game at UNCW’s Brooks Field. The game lived up to the hype.
After a back and forth game, the Huskies were three outs away from a heartbreaking defeat in the bottom of the ninth inning. Then, redshirt sophomore outfielder Ben Malgeri hit the ball deep into center field. The ball hung in the air for what felt like an eternity, before clearing the wall by inches, Malgeri’s fifth and final home run in the CAA Tournament. The game would be decided in extra innings.
“It’s just like a heavyweight fight, just back and forth,” Glavine said. “Halfway through the game, I think I just sort of, I wouldn’t say relaxed, but I just said, ‘You know what, this is gonna come down to the last swing.’ You just knew it was going to happen no matter who took the lead. It was just a crazy wild game, probably the wildest baseball game I’ve ever been a part of.”
With one out and no one on base, Viera walked up to the plate facing UNCW’s CAA pitcher of the year, Landen Roupp.
“I was trying to stick to the approach and just be ready for a fastball,” Viera said. “That’s always a dream of mine, playing in the backyard, playing wiffle ball, having those situations and going yard, but I was just trying to stick to the approach.”
There was a pitch. There was a swing. And then there was an immediate silence after the loudest clank sound any of these Huskies had ever heard, as the whole stadium waited to see whether the ball would come back down. It didn’t. Viera threw his helmet into the air as he rounded the bases, meeting his teammates at home plate to celebrate his walk-off home run.
“I found a pitch I liked, and luckily I was able to handle it,” Viera said. “I was blacking out going around the bases. It’s just a crazy experience, it’s just surreal.”
Schlittler was ecstatic to win and see his teammate achieve glory. “It’s great to see a freshman walk it off, and it was probably the greatest story ever. So awesome.”
Glavine had nothing but praise for his team. “Our guys just never gave up. They were resilient. They fought. We had to come out of the loser’s bracket and we had to beat those guys twice. We did, and just so much credit to those guys for all their mental and physical toughness.”
In what was a record breaking year for Northeastern baseball, the team was one of the nation’s best. They would finish fifth in the NCAA in ERA with 3.23 and fourth in the NCAA in stolen bases with 118. Dupere would finish the year with 21 home runs and 60 runs scored, both the most in a season in Northeastern history. Schlittler finished the season with an ERA of 1.79, the third best ERA in a season in Northeastern history. Holzwasser would finish the year first in program history in runs scored, stolen bases and finished tied for first in walks, all in 217 career games.
“There were some ups and downs in the year with injuries and COVID, but we overcame all that,” Viera said. “We won the conference championship, and it was a great time. We all bonded as a team, and it was just a great experience.”