For the past two seasons Husson University baseball coach Chris Morris has led his Eagles to North Atlantic Conference tournament championships, which sent them to the NCAA Division III baseball playoffs.
The Eagles also won the conference four seasons ago under then-coach Jason Harvey, but lost to CUNY Athletic Conference winner Baruch in a best-of-three series for the NCAA berth. There was no tournament in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, fourth-year head coach Morris and his second-seeded Eagles — who are 20-16 overall and went 14-2 in the NAC’s East Division — will begin defense of their title on Sunday in their conference tournament opener at Husson’s Winkin Sports Complex in Bangor against their third-seeded rival Thomas College of Waterville (18-15, 13-3) at 3 p.m.
Top seed SUNY Cobleskill (20-13, 13-2) and fourth seed SUNY Canton (11-21, 8-7), both from the NAC West, will open the four-team double-elimination tourney at noon Sunday.
The losers of the two games will play at 6 p.m., and the winners will play noon Monday. The two teams remaining with one loss will square off at 3:30 p.m. Monday and the championship round begins noon Tuesday, with an if-necessary game to follow.
Husson will enter the tourney on a five-game winning streak and with 10 wins in its last 11 games.
“First and foremost, our pitching and defense have carried us all season long,” center fielder Ethan Stoddard said. “Our offense wasn’t clicking well early in the season but it has been lately so now all three phases are clicking.”
The Eagles have scored 84 runs over their last 11 games after scoring just 15 in the seven previous games.
“We’re experienced but we’re also a little young and it is a great mixture between everybody. We do the best we can to put up as many runs as possible,” tri-captain and utility player Brett Riffe said.
Four-straight conference titles would be an impressive feat for the Husson team, which features five starters who grew up within 28 miles of the school.
Tri-captains Kobe Rogerson and Stoddard, both graduate students are from Brewer and Old Town, respectively, while Tanner Evans is from Greenbush and the Curtis brothers, Jackson and Hunter, are from Ellsworth.
Rogerson is the shortstop. Evans is a sophomore third baseman, Hunter Curtis is a freshman right fielder, and his brother Jackson plays first base and is a junior.
A pair of sophomore right handers, Matt Wallingford from Greene and Connor Abood from New Hampshire, have had outstanding seasons. Wallingford is 3-0 with a 2.03 earned-run average and 38 strikeouts in 31 innings, and Abood is 2-3 with a 3.00 ERA and two complete games.
Opponents are hitting just .145 off Wallingford, who has given up just 16 hits in 31 innings.
Husson has three other pitchers who have thrown at least 22 innings and have ERAs under 3.50 in Alex Smith (3-2, 3.12, 34 ⅔ innings), Brandon Brunell (3-1, 3.18 in 22 2/3 innings) and East Machias’ Zain Fitzsimmons (0-0, 3.47 in 23 ⅓ innings).
Morris has some other dependable arms who have thrown between 9 and 16 innings, including Windham’s Chris Naylor (0-1, 2.00), Ryne Rametta (2-1, 2.50), Sully Beers (1-0, 2.77), Tanner Audyatis (1-0, 3.38), Ben Phillips (2-0, 3.75) and saves leader Ryan Robb (2 saves, 3-0, 5.28).
The team ERA is 4.73.
The Curtis brothers have paced the offense and are within .12 of each other in batting average. Jackson is hitting .369.05 and Hunter is at .368.93.
Jackson has two homers and 16 runs batted in, while Hunter leads the team in runs batted in (24) and doubles (11) and is tied for the lead in homers with three.
“They’re awesome,” Rogerson said of the brothers. “And their connection in the locker room is cool to see. It’s nice to see them play college baseball together.”
Junior left fielder Akira Warren from Hallowell is at .314 with one homer and 17 RBIs, Evans is hitting .305-1-20 and Kennebunk freshman catcher-designated hitter David York is at .290-0-15.
Rogerson is hitting .270 and has 17 RBIs, Stoddard is at .267-2-18 and Bath sophomore catcher-designated hitter Ty Knowlton is tied for the team lead in homers with three and has 15 RBIs while hitting .259.
Freshman second baseman Keegan Cyr from Bangor is hitting .186 and has knocked in seven runs. Riffe is at .194 with three RBIs.
The Eagles are hitting .267 as a team and averaging 5.4 runs per game.
“We’re very athletic around the field defensively,” said Morris, who is 71-48 overall in his four seasons as the head coach at Husson and 45-5 in NAC regular season play.