This weekend, Boston College baseball travels down to Tuscaloosa to play in the 2023 NCAA Tournament. It’s been an incredible ride for Birdball this season after they had their hottest start in program history and have been hanging around the national rankings all year.
But here’s where things really get interesting. They have a very real shot to make it out of the NCAA regionals, which would put them just one upset away from playing in the College World Series. Let’s take a look at how this team got here and what it would take to advance.
Boston College baseball did not look capable of a run like this by the end of the 2022 season. They had one of the worst pitching performances in all of Division 1, finished a putrid 5-25 in conference, and lost 16 of their final 20 games. Head coach Mike Gambino was on the hot seat while his 2016 NCAA tournament run looked far away in the rearview mirror.
After all of that, Birdball came back in 2023 and had an amazing hot start to the season. They started their year by winning six-straight series, defeating ranked teams like #2 Tennessee, #10 Virginia Tech, #20 UConn, #21 Florida State, and #24 NC State. Some of those teams would later fall in the rankings, but it was an impressive stretch nonetheless and the national polls reflected it. BC climbed up to be ranked at #9 after their series win over Georgia Tech, which is the highest rank Boston College baseball has ever achieved as a program.
Things came back down to Earth a little bit in the back half of the season. They got swept by unranked Louisville after their hot start and went on to lose 4 of 5 ACC series before closing out a win over Notre Dame at the end in Fenway. They had a respectable showing in the ACC tournament, but lost in the first pool to eventual conference champion Clemson. BC ended up with the 17th-overall national seed, just narrowly missing the chance to host a regional in the NCAA tournament.
Boston College’s big season has mostly come from its bats. Joe Vetrano, Barry Walsh, Cameron Leary, and Nick Wang are BC’s big stars on an offense that loves a comeback. Vetrano especially is one of the ACC’s better hitters, landing in the top-5 in total home runs and hitting in at least one run in 10 of the Eagles’ last 12 games. Birdball has relied heavily on those offensive stars to win them big games, like ones over Wake Forest (11 runs), Tennessee (7 runs), Duke (9 runs), UNC (9 runs twice), Villanova (12 & 11 runs), Notre Dame (7 & 8 runs), a huge game over Georgia Tech (24 runs), and UMass in the Beanpot (13 runs). Wins like that, which often are spurred in later innings, are the main reason BC has had such a great year. Another important offensive player, Travis Honeyman, is questionable to return from injury for the tournament. He has been out since the end of April and was pivotal in a lot of their early hot streak.
Boston College’s pitching can’t be ignored, either. Their relief pitching has been particularly exceptional this season, with players like Andrew Roman and Julian Tonghini coming into games and pitching very well in the back halves, allowing Boston College to get back into games. Roman has appeared in 21 games as a closer/reliever and has earned an ERA of just 1.77. Their starting pitching has been inconsistent but impressive at times, with players like John West having incredible outings against Wake Forest and Clemson or Chris Flynn against Wake Forest and Notre Dame. None of the starters are in the elite group that have an ERA below 4, but they’ve all had good moments and they’ve done well enough to win some close games when the offense has a bad day. Some of West’s best performances have come in relief, too, as coach Gambino is not afraid to make in-game adjustments and play his best arms when needed.
Boston College was selected to play in Alabama’s regional down in Tuscaloosa. While BC is not officially the 17th overall seed, it is clear that Alabama is 16-overall and BC was right on the cusp of hosting. As a result, Boston College has one of the “easiest” paths out of their regional, but could be set up to face #1 Wake Forest in the super regional.
Below is the information for their first game against Troy, and we’ll be sure to update BCI with more info as other games are scheduled, so keep coming back to check!
Where: Tuscaloosa, AL
When: Friday June 2nd at 3pm ET
How to Watch: The first game will be broadcasted on ESPN+ and can be streamed on the ESPN app with a subscription to ESPN+
The format for the regional is a double-elimination bracket. BC will play Troy in the first round. If they win, they will continue on to play the winner of Alabama-Nicholls. If they lose, they will play the loser of the other game in an elimination game. They continue to play a format like this until they lose twice or every other team loses twice.
Bama is a tough opponent to get past in the regional. They were being mocked as a #9-12 seed, but the committee placed them at #16 despite being ranked highly in RPI and advancing past Auburn in the SEC tournament, who is seeded #13. The Crimson Tide are 40-19 on the season and 16-14 in the SEC, largely seen as college baseball’s best conference. They’re hot at the end of the year, winning SEC tournament games against #19 Auburn and #25 Kentucky and narrowly losing to #2 Florida in 11 innings. Before that, they won a series over #5 Vanderbilt at the beginning of May in the midst of an 8-2 run to end the regular season.
Alabama’s strength is its offense. They finished 3rd in the SEC in total runs, batting average and RBIs, 4th in slugging percentage, and 5th in home runs. They have 3 players with an OPS over 1.000 (BC has 1) and 5 players with over 40 RBI (BC has 2). Their batting lineup is incredibly deep and Boston College could struggle in a match-up against them if forced to play any deeper rotation arms. Bama as a team also has an ERA below 4 and their starting pitchers are impressive, but they tend to struggle in relief. If BC can get their bats going late in the game like they usually do, we could see another one of their typical comebacks.
The Trojans are the first team on BC’s schedule but they are likely to meet multiple times if games go chalk. Troy finished 39-20 overall and 3rd in the Sunbelt conference, losing in the first round of the conference tournament. They lost twice to Alabama in the regular season by two wide margins, but did manage a close victory over #13 Auburn.
They have a couple of star pitchers like Noah Manning in relief or Grayson Stewart as a starter, but otherwise are pretty weak at the position. Over the course of the weekend, BC’s bats will be likely to break through their rotation once arms get tired and depth becomes an issue for Troy. The Trojans hit with a lot of power, racking up 102 home runs on the season, as compared to BC’s 56, with 4 players in double-digits. They don’t have any individual elite batters but have 4 starters who all hit above .300 and have even more who are close.
Nicholls State claimed both the regular season and postseason titles in the Southland Conference and enter the NCAA Regionals as an auto-bid 4-seed, taking on Alabama in the first round.
They have an incredibly deep pitching rotation that have all succeeded in spurts, but many of which have not emerged as consistent rotation pieces. Only two of their pitchers average 1 IP/game, including their star starter Jacob Mayers, who has a ridiculous 1.93 ERA on the season. Once you get past him, though, it’s a lot of players who have good-not-great pitching numbers in a weak conference. Their batting looks comparable to Boston College’s, though slightly worse in some areas, and against weaker competition. But they are red hot after their conference tournament run and could turn some heads if they get a gem from their star starting pitcher.