The offseason has officially begun.
The Clemson Tigers rallied from down 9-4 to start the bottom of the ninth inning to tie the game, then won in walk off fashion in the 13th to take a 10-9 decision over the Boston College Eagles on Saturday afternoon. The Eagles finished their season 22-33, 10-20 in the ACC, 12th place among the 14 teams.
Up by five, BC went to their bullpen for senior Eric Stevens, hoping he could close the game out in his final appearance. But he immediately gave up a leadoff homer, as Tyler Slaton went yard to right center field to make it a 9-5 game. But after walking Tyler Krieger, he retired the next two batters to get the Eagles within an out of pitcking up their 23rd victory. With one on and two out, he gave up a single and walk to load the bases, then walked in a run to make it 9-6.
That chased Stevens in favor of Mike King to finish things out, but the first batter he faced, Jon McGibbon, roped a double to right center. That cleared the loaded bags to tie the game at 9-9. The final tally for the frame was five runs on only three hits with one man left on base.
In the 13th, Mike Gambino went back to Friday starter John Gorman, and pitching on two days' rest, he got the first two batters. But Garrett Boulware singled and scored from first when Jay Baum doubled for the 10-9 final.
Eight BC hitters recorded hits and seven recorded an RBI along with a run scored. Clemson starting pitcher Jake Long lasted one inning as the Eagles tagged him for three runs on four hits. Two down and nobody out, Joe Cronin started the rally by doubling to left. He scored two batters later when Michael Strem doubled him home. Sandwiched between them was Chris Shaw, who had walked with Cronin on second and advanced to third on Strem's hit. Both runners scored when Tom Bourdon singled to right.
Staked to a 3-0 lead, Jeff Burke held serve until the third when Steven Duggar hit an RBI double to make it 3-1. But the Eagles responded in the top of the fourth when Blake Butera grounded into a fielder's choice that scored John Hennessy.
BC added one in the fifth and one in the sixth before delivering a seemingly knockout blow in the seventh. Johnny Adams led off with a single, then moved up a base on a wild pitch. Two outs later, he was still on second, but Gabriel Hernandez started a rally by singling him home. Hernandez stole second, then plated when Butera singled down the right field line. That set up Cronin, who doubled home Butera to give BC their ninth run of the game.
The Eagles left two in the 10th and one in the 11th on base.
That put the final stamp on a 2014 season that featured individual resurgences without the team success. Stating before the season that their goal was the ACC Tournament and not a given number of wins, Mike Gambino's crew fell short of their goal for the fourth consecutive season. Despite a tough road that included losses to teams like Dartmouth and a fourth place finish outright in the Beanpot, the Eagles were in the hunt for the postseason right up until the final weekend.
Chris Shaw ended the season on a 21-game streak of reaching base, recording hits 22 of the last 24 games of the season. Shaw also did not make an error in 53 games in the outfield, playing the position full time for the first time.
There will be time for analysis, but the Boston College squad now faces an uncertain offseason. While they've taken steps forward, the bullpen was atrocious again this season, and they failed to find a pitcher who could close down the back end of games. At times, Luke Fernandes looked to fill that role, but Gambino and his coaching staff never settled on a full-time setup or closer role. The player with the most saves - John Nicklas with four - had an ERA well over 7.00. And two of the weekend starters finished the year with a combined 10-12 record. Of those starters, there's a chance John Gorman, who went 3-7 starting Fridays, does not return if drafted high enough, and Andrew Chin, who went 5-2, projects to a high round pick.
Additionally, only one BC pitcher - freshman Bobby Skogsbergh - finished with an ERA under 3.00. So while the team itself held batters to a batting average of 2.61 (third best in BC history), they still gave up a substantial amount of runs. The team finished with an ERA of well over 4.00, which will rank second-to-last ahead of only Virginia Tech.
And then there's the issue of what could've been. BC will miss the posteason by roughly three games. Coupling the blown ninth-inning lead on Saturday with the blown 7-2 lead against Florida State, along with losing two-out-of-three to Notre Dame in Chicago, the Eagles had the opportunities to make the ACC Tournament, but they didn't. That inevitably leaves a foul taste in some mouths as the season starts its reflection period.
The biggest question, though, will be the future of the coaching staff. The past two Boston College baseball coaches each had something to point to as a success - Pete Hughes never finished an overall season below .500 and Mik Aoki made the ACC Tournament twice in four years with a trip to the national tournament. Mike Gambino matched his best record tit-for-tat from 2012 when the Eagles went 22-33 with a 10-20 conference record, good enough for fifth in the Atlantic Division.
Over this same time period, there have been limited degrees of success from other programs - Duke will make the ACC Tournament in the second year of Chris Pollard's regime with a third place finish in the Coastal Division, and Maryland will head to the tournament this year in the second year of John Szefc, two years after finishing behind BC in the Atlantic Division. Pittsburgh will make the conference tournament this year after finishing second in the Big East last year with 42 wins. And there's the issue of the arrival next year of Louisville, a team this year ranked in or around the top 10 in the nation and almost assuredly going to the national tournament after finishing first in the American.
As a result, Brad Bates now faces the question of the baseball program moving forward. The program is moving forward towards a new stadium as reassured and reaffirmed over the last couple of weeks by the school's administration. Being able to move into that stadium with a program on secure on-field footing has to be paramount to their thoughts, and the question has to be about how to fix this program on short notice. More on that at another time.
At the end of the day, though, it has to be about the players. This year's senior class will graduate without a conference playoff appearance, but it won't be for lack of effort. They left everything they had on the field, of that much I'm certain, and that needs to be commended. Best of luck to them in all their future endeavors, and stay tuned as we look into the program as summer vacation commences.