Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, after a disappointing opening weekend at Bethune-Cookman, the Eagles journeyed down to Norman, Oklahoma to take part in the 19 Ways Invitational this weekend looking to get their season on track, and that’s what they did for two of the three games they played. BC’s offense, which had been mainly absent in Daytona Beach, came alive in dominant wins over Northern Illinois and Villanova on Friday and Saturday. The bad news, however, is that the Eagles blew a three-run lead in the eighth inning on Sunday and lost to Oklahoma in walk-off fashion, 5-4. Let’s take a closer look and dive deeper into how each of these games went down this weekend:
Friday: Boston College 9 Northern Illinois 1:
It took the better part of seven innings and another dominant start by sophomore Jacob Stevens, but the Eagles’ bats finally came alive on Friday afternoon en route to an eight-run blowout of the Huskies. Stevens, who threw seven quality innings on Friday, held Northern Illinois at bay until the top of the seventh when they plated their only run of the game, after a walk, balk, and passed ball. Through 13 innings of work this season, it’s the only run Stevens has given up, and it was unearned, leaving his ERA at a perfect 0.00. Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh, the Eagles started their half of the inning with back to back singles by Donovan Casey and Scott Braren, followed by a walk issued to Johnny Adams that loaded the bases. The Huskies then went to their bullpen and brought in reliever Jon Savarise who hit the first batter he faced, pinch-hitter Brian Dempsey, bringing in Casey and tying the game at one. The next batter, Mitch Bigras, hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield, giving the Eagles a 2-1 lead. Later in the inning, junior Jake Palomaki doubled off the right field wall, plating two more Eagles, and giving BC a 4-1 lead heading into the eighth. In the top of the eighth, relief pitcher Zach Stromberg held the Huskies scoreless, and in the bottom of the frame, the Eagles added five more runs on another bases-loaded walk by Dempsey, a two-run single by Bigras, and another two-run single by senior Michael Strem. Senior Luke Fernandes closed the door on the Huskies with a scoreless ninth, that included his first strikeout of the season.
Donovan Casey and Scott Braren paced the Eagles offense on the day, each recording two hits in four at-bats. Palomaki and Bigras were both went 1-for-2 on the afternoon, and combined to drive in five of the Eagles nine runs. As mentioned previously, Stevens was again outstanding on the mound, going seven innings, allowing no earned runs while striking out six. He now has 15 strike outs in two appearances on the season.
Saturday: Boston College 10 Villanova 3:
Friday’s offensive explosion carried over to Saturday afternoon as the Eagles lineup combined for 16 hits in a 10-3 drubbing of the “home-team” Wildcats.
Freshman Matt Gill took the ball for the Eagles in his first collegiate start, replacing junior Brian Rapp in the weekend rotation. His day got off to a rocky start, as the Wildcats tagged him for three runs on five hits in the first inning. However, the Eagles lineup had their young starters’ back, and responded by taking the lead in the top of the third inning. Mitch Bigras led off the third with a solo homerun over the right field wall, the first homerun of the season for the Eagles, and was followed by a double from Jake Palomaki, a single from Michael Stem, and a walk by Scott Braren, to load the bases. Sophomore Gian Martellini then stepped up to the plate and cleared the bases with a double down the left field line, giving the Eagles a 4-3 lead heading into the fourth. That was all the cushion Gill and the BC bullpen would need as they combined to hold the Wildcats scoreless the rest of the way. BC added two more runs in the sixth after Martellini and freshman Brian Dempsey both singled to the put runners on the corners, and were scored on singles from Johnny Adams and Palomaki, to make the score 6-3 Boston College. The Eagles padded their lead in the seventh with an RBI single from Martellini that drove in Donovan Casey who had singled and advanced to third on a stolen base and passed ball. The scoring was capped in the top of the eighth as the Eagles plated three more runs on an RBI single from Michael Strem and two-run double by Casey to give the Eagles a 10-3 lead heading into the final frame. Sophomore Jake Alu made his first career appearance on the mound, working a perfect ninth inning that included two strikeouts.
Offensively, Martellini enjoyed a career day, leading the Eagles by going 3-for-4 with four RBI and a walk. Palomaki, Strem and Casey all recorded two hits on the day and combined for four RBI. Senior Chris Balogh saw his first action of the season, tallying a pinch-hit single in the top of the ninth inning. On the mound, Gill turned in a solid performance going seven innings, striking out three and, after that shaky first inning, he allowed no runs and only one hit.
Sunday: Oklahoma 5 Boston College 4:
The Eagles got another fantastic outing from their starting pitcher in Sunday’s matchup with the Sooners, as sophomore Dan Metzdorf went seven innings, giving up one earned run, while striking out a career-high six Oklahoma batters.
BC struck first on Sunday when Mitch Bigras grounded out to the second baseman in the top of the second, scoring sophomore Gian Martellini who had singled to lead off the inning and was moved to third after Brian Dempsey singled and Johnny Adams laid down a sacrifice bunt, giving the Eagles the 1-0 lead. Oklahoma would answer in the bottom of the frame to tie the game at one. Boston College regained the lead in the top of fourth after Michael Strem walked with the bases loaded, bringing in Adams, who had singled up the middle with one out in the inning, making the score 2-1. The Eagles tacked on another run the following inning when Scott Braren scored on a Martellini base hit to left field, after he had singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch, giving BC a 3-1 lead. BC ended its scoring in the top of the sixth when the Sooners’ right fielder dropped a popup, allowing Jake Palomaki, who had been hit by a pitch, to score from first base.
Metzdorf departed the game after seven strong innings with a 4-1 lead, however, it wouldn’t be enough for the Eagles to hold on as sophomore lefty Zach Stromberg gave up three runs in the eighth, two of them earned, and was replaced by redshirt junior Bobby Skogsbergh. Skogsbergh stopped the bleeding in the eighth, and after the Eagles couldn’t push a run across in the top of the ninth, returned to the mound for the bottom half of the frame with the score tied at four. After an error that should’ve been ruled a hit, a walk, and a single, the Sooners had the bases loaded with no outs. The next batter, Ben Hollas, hit the first pitch he saw from Skogsbergh up the middle, giving the Sooners the walk-off win, 5-4, and leaving a sour taste in the Eagles mouths after an otherwise great weekend of baseball.
Offensively, BC was led by Palomaki, Martellini, and Donovan Casey who all had two hits apiece on the afternoon, with Martellini and Palomaki both scoring runs.
Some thoughts on The 19 Ways Invitational:
When the last game of the weekend is a walk-off loss, it sometimes becomes hard to remember all the positives from the series. As a player, there is no more deflating feeling than getting on a plane back home knowing you blew a great opportunity at a series sweep, something that doesn’t come around too often in college baseball. However, despite the outcome on Sunday, there were plenty of positives from this weekend that should make BC fans excited about this team moving forward. First and foremost, the rotation this weekend was outstanding. All three starters, Stevens, Gill, and Metzdorf threw seven innings and limited the offenses they faced to a combined four earned runs. That kind of production from a rotation is incredibly rare and something that, if continued throughout the season, will lead to a lot of wins. Not only does it mean the starters are feeling great and throwing the ball well, it means the bullpen is being saved and can be used more liberally throughout the weekend and following week’s midweek contests. It was also great to see the offense reemerge this weekend. After scoring a combined eight runs a week ago, the Eagles’ bats exploded for 23 at The 19 Ways Invitational. Should we expect to see nine or ten runs a game during ACC play? Probably not, but after opening weekend’s offensive drought, this weekend’s performance should relax some fans who thought the 2017 season would see the Eagles struggle to put runs on the scoreboard.
There are still a few issues that need to be addressed in the coming weeks, most importantly, the backend of the bullpen. Already on the young season, the Eagles have lost two of their six games in the eighth inning or later, after holding a lead. Granted, one of those two instances was a one-run lead at Bethune-Cookman on opening night, but the point remains that if the Eagles want to be a top-tier ACC team, which they have the capability of being, they have to learn to shut the door on teams when playing with a lead late in ballgames. Another issue that remained this weekend, mainly just on Sunday, was leaving runners on base, specifically in scoring position. While it wasn’t as big of a deal as it was last weekend, BC left nine men on base on Sunday, including a bases-loaded situation that could’ve blown the game open for the Eagles. Now, as any coach will tell you, one hit here or there, and we’re not talking about this as a problem and, personally, I believe that as the season moves along, this issue will fall by the way-side as guys continue to get more comfortable in the batter’s box.
Again coach Gambino will have plenty to work on this week in practice before the team heads back to the state of Florida for its longest trip of the year to the Snowbird Classic and then to Tallahassee for the conference opener versus Florida State, but this weekend should bring optimism back to the Heights, and leave fans feeling pretty good about the boys in Maroon and Gold.