Well, that wasn’t the start the Eagles were looking for to open the 2017 season. Losing the first series of the year is never ideal, especially by being swept, but with the hype surrounding this team coming off a berth in the 2016 Super Regionals, it makes this weekend a little more disappointing. Give Bethune-Cookman credit; they played good baseball and took advantage of BC miscues all weekend. Even with the series sweep, it’s not all gloom and doom for the Eagles. There were a number of great individual performances, and a number of younger guys who stepped up in big ways. Let’s take a look at how the weekend shook out for the Eagles:
Friday: Bethune-Cookman 2 Boston College 1:
Of all three games on the weekend, the Eagles deserved to win this one the most. Starter Jacob Stevens turned in an absolute gem of a game, throwing six shutout innings, while tying a career high with nine strike outs. Bethune-Cookman starter Tyler Norris was also exceptional on the mound, matching Stevens almost pitch for pitch. The game was scoreless into the sixth inning, when catcher Gian Martellini doubled to left centerfield off Bethune-Cookman’s Alexis Herrera, who had come in to relieve Norris. The next batter, freshman pinch hitter Brian Dempsey, made the most of his first career at bat, singling up the middle and scoring Martellini to give BC a 1-0 lead. The Eagles took the one-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. Redshirt junior Bobby Skogsbergh struck out the first batter he faced looking, but surrendered a one-out single to the following batter. After forcing a foul-out for the second out of the ninth, Bethune-Cookman’s Demetrius Sims lined a triple to right centerfield, scoring the runner from first, tying the game at one. The next Wildcat batter singled through the right side of the infield, scoring Sims from third and giving the Wildcats the walk-off win, 2-1.
Martellini led the way for the Eagles (0-1) at the plate, going 2 for 4 with a double, and junior Scott Braren extended his hitting streak from the end of last season to four games, his career long. As a coach, you cannot ask for a better performance on the mound than the one Stevens turned in on Friday night. However, the Wildcats starter, Norris, also threw a gem and limited the Eagles offense giving BCU the one-run win.
Saturday: Bethune-Cookman 6 Boston College 5:
The Eagles came into Saturday’s contest riding a four-game errorless streak, including Friday night’s game. Unfortunately, that streak came to an end Saturday afternoon as the Eagles committed three errors that led directly Wildcat runs. Junior Brian Rapp, the BC starter, allowed two unearned runs in the bottom of the first on a throwing and fielding error, and the Wildcats added a third run in the bottom of the second after a leadoff single and three wild pitches. BC tied the game at three in the top of the fourth as junior Donovan Casey singled with one out and then was brought home on an RBI double by Scott Braren. Freshman Brian Dempsey then drew a two-out walk and junior Mitch Bigras singled through the right side, scoring Braren. The scoring in the fourth ended after freshman Aaron Soucy, making his first career start behind the plate, walked to load the bases with two outs. The next batter, junior Jake Palomaki, singled up the middle to tie the game at three.
Bethune-Cookman retook the lead in the fifth, scoring three runs off freshman righthander Matt Gill, making his first collegiate appearance, to make the score 6-3. BC chipped away and made it a one-run game in top of the sixth when senior Michael Strem doubled, scoring Bigras who had reached on a dropped third strike and Palomaki who had walked for the second time in the game. The Eagles had a chance to tie the game in the eighth inning after Palomaki walked for the third time on the day and advanced to third on a failed pickoff attempt. Unfortunately, the Eagles couldn’t bring him home and Bethune-Cookman won the game 6-5.
Gill (0-1) shouldered the loss for the Eagles (0-2). Offensively, BC was led by Braren who went 2 for 5 at the plate, and Palomaki who went 1 for 2 with three walks (moving him into eighth place all time in BC record books). Freshman righthander Jack Cunningham was also impressive for the Eagles in his first career outing, throwing 2.2 scoreless innings in relief, giving BC the opportunity to climb back into the game.
Sunday: Bethune-Cookman 3 Boston College 2:
Boston College came into Sunday’s game looking to avoid a series sweep at the hands of the Wildcats. Sophomore lefthander Dan Metzdorf took the ball for the Eagles to start the game and worked 4.1 innings, giving up 3 runs. He was relieved in the fifth inning by sophomore righthander Jack Nelson who, after allowing one of his inherited baserunners to score, settled in and held BCU off the scoreboard. The BC bats were alive all afternoon, but solid defensive work by the Wildcats and a few well hit balls right at fielders kept the Eagles scoreless until the top of the ninth. Trailing by three and down to their last out, junior Jake Palomaki singled to right center. He was brought home when senior captain Johnny Adams reached base on high pop up that was not caught, cutting the Bethune-Cookman lead to two. The next batter, Michael Strem, doubled to left center, scoring Adams and putting the tying run on second base. Unfortunately, the next batter, Donovan Casey, grounded out to third base, ending the game and giving Bethune-Cookman the series sweep.
Metzdorf (0-1) took the loss for the Eagles (0-3), who were swept in a season opening series for the first time under head coach Mike Gambino. Michael Strem also climbed the BC record books, and is now tied with Tony Sanchez (’09) for fourth all time at BC in career doubles, with 49. BC returns to action next weekend in the “19 Ways Invitational” hosted by Oklahoma.
Some Takeaways from the first weekend:
First and foremost, a lot of credit has to be given to the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats. They played three very good baseball games and came up with the big plays they needed to win. With that said, BC had its chances to win each game. On the weekend, the Eagles left 28 runners on base and could not come up with that one timely hit to bust open a game. In close ball games (all three this weekend were one-run games) every baserunner is crucial. Also, they did not play mistake-free baseball throughout the series, most notably the three-error game on Saturday. Top-notch defense has become a trademark of Gambino-coached teams, so, is it time to panic? Absolutely not. While the results were not exactly what the Eagles were hoping for, there was plenty to give BC fans hope for the remaining 54 games on the schedule. For starters, Jacob Stevens looked like the dominant starter BC came to rely on a year ago. If he can pitch as well as he did on Friday for the remainder of the year, BC will win more of those games than not and will have a chance to win every weekend series. Also, it was encouraging to see so many freshmen get into the lineup early on and contribute in meaningful ways. That kind of depth will be an asset for Gambino and the Eagles moving forward. In closing, BC has plenty to work on this week before they head to Norman for the “19 Ways Invitational,” but the series sweep to open the season does nothing to derail this team’s goal of reaching the postseason for the second straight year, and earning a spot in Omaha.