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Baseball Beats UMass-Lowell in Extra Innings, 7-6

Having to beat a first year Division I America East program with a come-from-behind walk-off extra inning victory in a game not on the schedule until it started is the most Birdball thing ever.

I woke up this morning with the intention of starting the weekend preview of BC's baseball series with North Carolina State.  I intended to start breaking down the Wolfpack, their pitching, their hitting, some of their games so far.  I had every intention of maybe even being ready to run a preview tomorrow early talking about what BC could bring to the table to maybe, just maybe win a game (because I'm optimistic like that).

Around 3:30 PM, I checked Twitter and saw this:

Wait, what?

Turns out BC, a day after having their scheduled game at Rhode Island (not a home game at Rhode Island like earlier in the year) postponed, decided to have an unplanned game with UMass-Lowell, a first-year Division I program in transition into the America East Conference that you probably recognize as a Hockey East program.  I recognize them as a former Northeast-10 Conference team from Division II that's ineligible for any postseason play until the 2017-2018 academic year.

Let's talk about that for a second, shall we?

The Eagles are leaving tomorrow for Raleigh to take on a 20-win NC State team currently just outside the race for the ACC Tournament with a 6-12 record.  This is a BC team playing bad baseball as of late, losing to Harvard and Dartmouth, then going down in a whimper last weekend to Notre Dame.  They're the last place team in the ACC, and they're fighting losses to local programs like Northeastern.  The perception is that BC is no longer a northeast power, and, worse, they're on the verge of being one of the worse programs (again) in the country.

The River Hawks, meanwhile, only have 10 wins this year, but look within those numbers.  They entered today at 10-13, but they've been a capable baseball team.  They beat Cincinnati twice and went 3-1 in the Virginia Tech Tournament, including a win over the Hokies.  They crushed Temple.  They beat URI and at one point this year were 8-2 with a 2-0 record in America East.  While they've crashed to Earth, they're still a 30-win team from Division II last year, something that ordinarily would be overlooked if not for the fact that BC's struggled for the past two years.

The only acceptable outcome for an ACC program against an AE transitional team with a D2 roster would be complete decimation at this stage of the season.  Yes, I know they beat VT, but this is only something that can hurt BC's image, which is already pretty bad, in New England collegiate baseball.  That the game cropped up out of nowhere only served as one of those "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!!" moments, and texts and emails traded with several members of the BC alumni community all commented that a loss to UML would be absolutely disastrous at this stage of the season.

The good news is BC won, their 12th win of the year, matching last year's win total.  The bad news?  There's nothing about this game that could leave you feeling confident heading into a now-quick turnaround down to Raleigh and a three-game set with the Wolfpack.

Let's go to the game.  BC won this game, 7-6, thanks to freshman Michael Strem and junior Blake Butera.  Butera hit a walkoff base hit, his fourth career such tally, in the bottom of the 10th to score the Johnny Adams, and Strem went 3-for-4 with five RBI for a career day out of a freshman pitcher-turned-outfielder.

The Eagles, meanwhile, needed all of those heroics and more in order to even tie this game in the late innings.  Trailing by two in the bottom of the eighth, Logan Hoggarth led off with a double to right.  With one out, Strem singled him in, then moved into scoring position by stealing second.  That set up Adams, who singled through the left side to plate the tying run.  BC had a chance to win the game in regulation, but they stranded the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.

BC used six pitchers, and Luke Fernandes pitched three innings to pick up the win and improve to 3-1 on the year.  Jeff Burke, normally a weekend starter for BC, started the game and threw two innings before giving way to Eric Stevens.  Stevens, a senior tri-captain for the squad, pitched two as well.  Burke and Stevens combined for a solid outing into the fifth, giving up just two runs on three hits.  Burke also struck out three.

John Nicklas pitched in the fifth and struggled, giving up three runs on four hits without recording an out.  He was relieved by Jesse Adams, who bailed out the BC defense with two perfect innings of two-strikeout ball.  Mike King gave up a run in his only inning of work, and Fernandes was stellar to lock down the back end of the game.

As for the offense, Butera went 3-for-6 with the game-winning RBI, and Strem had himself his aforementioned day.  Hoggarth went 2-for-4 and scored three runs, while Chris Shaw went 2-for-4 with a couple of runs scored.  On the back end, Tom Bourdon only went 1-for-4 and left three on the basepaths (he did score a run), and Nick Sciortino went 1-for-5 and left three on base.  BC on the whole outhit UML, 13-10, but they left ten on base while the River Hawks left only seven.

As I mentioned above, though, I've been really hard on BC as of late with the way that they've played.  I feel like they've left so much on the table that this season is fast becoming one of those years where bad vibrations are creeping in.  If you go back to the way I viewed this team at the beginning of the year, I constantly said to wait and see how this team would play out.  I said, over and over, that their fast start was encouraging.  But I wanted to see more.  And when they didn't show me more, I jumped on this and used stats and analysis to prove what was going wrong (and that not much was being done for corrective action).  In that regard, I've turned on this season, and there's a lot BC needs to overcome in order to finish what they set out to do at the beginning of the year.  They have a ton of ground to make up, and this isn't a situation that feels like they're trying to make it up.

Maybe I'm being arrogant, but with the way the team's played lately, I saw this game crop up on Twitter and immediately had a bad vibe.  It's a no-win game.  If you win, you're supposed to.  If you lose, it's a disaster at a key juncture on the season.  Yes, you've lost games due to the weather.  Holy Cross, URI - I get that.  This was only Lowell's 24th game of the year compared to BC having 24 losses.  But your primary focus can't be on just "getting a game in" when you're still (barely) in the hunt for an ACC playoff spot.  If any of these pitchers are used this weekend and look tired or the team falters, this game, unscheduled until pretty much this morning, looks bad.

I can't rationalize or wonder why this game was scheduled.  I don't have all the details, and I obviously can't come out and talk about the phone calls that led to this.  But, from a pure baseball perspective, I know I'm not the only one who greatly questioned that decision.  I wish I could offer up something more, but I didn't even have time to prepare for UMass-Lowell.  I mean, at least BC won, which is something that's come at a premium.  And if it serves as a catalyst for the season, then I'll bathe in crow about this being a bad idea to play.  I won't just eat it.  I'll bathe in it.

Either way, I guess a win is a win, right?.  This BC team now matched its win total from last year, as Pyrrhic as that victory might seem.  And it's off to NC State tomorrow.  Let's put this one behind us and just move on.