The Husson University baseball team has played 24 games already this spring, but its season really began Thursday.
That’s when the Eagles started a stretch of 12 North Atlantic Conference games — six doubleheaders — in 11 days as coach Chris Morris’ club seeks its second straight league championship and a return to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
“I think at this point of the year everybody’s just ready to play,” Morris said. “Practice has been good and we’ve been crisp, but at the same time you’re just ready to play baseball and that’s what we’re going to do over the next two weeks.”
An early conference bye and the postponement of two of its first four NAC games against Northern Vermont-Lyndon has left Husson at 1-1 in league play. The Eagles are 9-15 overall after a challenging nonconference schedule including matchups against several regionally ranked opponents and traditional in-state powers University of Southern Maine and Saint Joseph’s College of Standish.
“We’ve had some ups and downs, but when you play the level of competition that we have, that’s going to happen,” said Morris, whose team was scheduled to open its NAC stretch with a makeup doubleheader at the Winkin Complex in Bangor on Thursday against Thomas College of Waterville.
“We’ve seen some of the best teams and had good days and bad days but I think overall we’re happy where we’re at right now. We’re starting to play the baseball that we want to play specifically at the end of the year.”
Ten of Husson’s 12 remaining NAC games will be at home, where the Eagles are 3-0 this spring.
The Eagles will host the University of Maine at Presque Isle for doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday, games that originally were set to be played in Aroostook County but were moved downstate to the artificial turf at Husson.
Husson visits Thomas for two more games next Tuesday, followed by back-to-back doubleheaders at home against the University of Maine Farmington on April 30 and May 1.
Thomas currently leads the NAC’s East Division with a 5-3 record, followed by UMF (4-4), Northern Vermont-Lyndon (3-3), Husson and UMPI (1-3).
Husson will seek to improve its .249 team batting average as its schedule becomes concentrated on conference play.
Senior catcher Tyler Parke of Bangor is batting a team-leading .392 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 51 at-bats over 20 games. Joshua Scott, a junior outfielder from Allen, Texas, and a transfer from Southwestern Baptist University, is batting .333 with five home runs and 22 RBIs.
Other key hitters include sophomore infielder Jackson Curtis of Ellsworth (.293, 4 HR, 22 RBI), senior infielder Kobe Rogerson of Brewer (.260, 7 stolen bases), senior outfielder-pitcher Ethan Stoddard of Old Town (.243, 7 SB) and first-year infielder Tanner Evans of Greenbush (.234, 14 RBIs).
Senior Cam Graham of Littleton anchors the pitching staff with a 2-3 record in eight starts, while sophomore Chris Naylor is 0-3 in five starts and freshman Connor Abood is 2-1 in three starts.
Sophomore Ryan Robb has a team-leading 11 relief appearances, with junior Hunter Lendrum and senior Jake Gregoire among the other frequent relievers on a 19-man pitching staff.
The top two teams in the NAC’s East and West divisions will meet in a four-team, double-elimination conference tournament on May 8-10 for an automatic NCAA tournament berth, with the West champion set to host the event.
Husson defeated SUNY Cobleskill in a best-of-three NAC championship series last year to advance to the NCAA Division III tournament, where they lost to No. 18 SUNY-Oswego and Johnson & Wales of Rhode Island in the Hartford regional.
SUNY Cobleskill currently leads this year’s West Division standings by four games with an 8-0 conference record and is on track to host the NAC tournament.
Husson has played the fewest conference games of any NAC team to this point, with seven of the other nine schools in the East and West divisions having already played at least eight conference contests.
“I think the conference is as good as it’s ever been, and from our standpoint it looks like anybody in the league can beat anybody on any given night,” Morris said. “We’re definitely excited to get into that conference play, and we’re certainly going to have to play our best baseball in the next two weeks to make sure we can get into the playoffs.”