With an NCAA Tournament berth at stake, the Husson University baseball team arrived at the Winkin Complex on Friday with their bats at the ready.
Especially first-year designated hitter Jackson Curtis of Ellsworth, who slugged a school-record four doubles and drove home seven runs as part of a 14-hit attack that propelled the Eagles to a 14-6 victory over SUNY Cobleskill in the third and deciding game of the North Atlantic Conference championship series.
The victory, which came after the teams split two low-scoring games Thursday, sends Husson to the NCAA Division III Tournament for the first time since 2011.
Coach Chris Morris Eagles (22-7) will learn its tournament destination and first-round opponent on Sunday.
SUNY Cobleskill ends its season with a 15-9 record.
“I said to the other coaches before the game, ‘If we hit, we win,’” said Morris, who is in his first full season as Husson’s head coach after the 2020 season was halted due to COVID-19 after the Eagles had played 10 preseason contests in Florida.
“I just felt that way. I knew we had arms that were going to keep them at bay, but they’re a pretty good hitting team, too, so we needed to come out swinging,” Morris said.
Everyone in the Husson lineup did just that, with all nine members of the batting order producing at least one hit apiece.
“It’s just one of those things where it’s contagious, it always is,” Morris said. “With our team there’s so much energy within them, and when you have a group that is that close, that just love each other, good things happen regardless of what’s going on.”
Perhaps the game’s most important hit was Curtis’ first double, a three-run blast to right-center that capped off a four-run rally in the bottom of the first. That was after SUNY Cobleskill reached Husson starter Harrison Lendrum (3-0) for one run in the top of the inning.
Senior center fielder David LeBlanc singled home leadoff hitter Akira Warren — who was hit by a pitch three times, singled, walked and reached on a fielder’s choice in his six plate appearances — to tie the game. Then Curtis came up with two outs and LeBlanc, Brandon Smith and Ethan Stoddard all on base, and got the pitch he wanted.
“I got a fastball on the outer half,” said Curtis of the 0-1 pitch from SUNY Cobleskill right-hander Stephen Tejada (2-1). “Coach talks to me all the time about how that’s where I’m going to be pitched, and I finally sat back on one and drove it the other way.
“When I went up to the plate I knew I had to do something for the team. This meant everything to the seniors and I needed to perform for them.”
Husson led the rest of the way and every time SUNY Cobleskill tried to mount a comeback, the Eagles had an immediate reply.
The Fighting Tigers closed within 4-2 on Tejada’s RBI single in the top of the fifth, but Husson answered with five, two-out runs in the bottom of the inning to take a 9-2 advantage.
Junior shortstop Kobe Rogerson keyed the uprising with a two-run single up the middle after Curtis pulled an RBI double down the left-field line and Stoddard and Tyler Parke each singled home a run.
SUNY Cobleskill scored four runs in the top of the sixth, three on a home run to left field that ended shortstop Eddy Garcia’s 0-for-17 drought at the plate.
But Curtis doubled home Stoddard in the bottom of the inning to give Husson a 10-6 lead, then Rogerson singled home a run in the seventh. The Eagles added three more in the eighth as Curtis smashed a two-run double and Rogerson had his third run-producing hit of the day, an RBI single to left.
Right-hander Jesse Colford, a graduate student from Bangor, came on to pitch three innings of two-hit, scoreless relief and the Fighting Tigers were out of comebacks.
“Last year when we went to Florida and got shipped home early, that was pretty devastating for us,” Rogerson said. “So once we got to play this season we told each other that we needed to take advantage of our time on the field together because you never know what’s going to happen.
“We really did take advantage of it, worked hard and we’ve had success. We’re pretty happy.”
SUNY Cobleskill 100 014 000 — 6 13 3
Husson 400 051 13x — 14 14 1
Tejada, C. Maxwell (5), Leavey (5), Ladden (7), Diplan (8) and Snyder; Lendrum, Naylor (6), Colford (7) and Parke