Heading into Tuesday's home opener, the Boston College Eagles had reason to be excited. After more than 14,000 miles, 21 games, three conference series, and nearly two months worth of games, they were finally coming home to nest. It was the first game of 2016 played at Shea Field, the first game played inside the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In the first base dugout stood a visiting Connecticut team - a regional rival and a lineal old-Big East team with whom the Eagles looked to spar.
But any excitement rippling through the 200 or so fans in the stands and lining the Alumni Stadium ramp quickly dissipated in the first few innings against the Huskies. Struggling to get base runners through the first seven innings, the Eagles were met by a hungry UConn team that tagged them for four runs by the sixth. Though Birdball woke up in the eighth, the Huskies blew the game open in the ninth and waltzed out of Chestnut Hill with a 9-4 victory.
Though BC had base runners, they didn't get anyone close to a threatening position. Though the Eagles only went down in order in the fourth and sixth, they didn't advance a runner to third until the eighth, held completely at bay by UConn pitching. Sam Nepiarsky allowed only three hits through five innings, walking two and striking out six. CJ Dandeneau then came in for the sixth and seventh, going perfect for six outs while striking out four.
By then, the Eagles were down 4-0. In the third, Aaron Hill led off with a single against starting pitcher Thomas Lane. With one on, Jack Sundberg lined one at Jake Palomaki that the second baseman, dropped putting two on with nobody out. Bryan Daniello grounded the runners over by hitting one to Mitch Bigras at first, which set up Bobby Melley's first RBI of the day. He grounded to short, and the Eagles conceded the run, giving UConn a 1-0 lead.
Two innings later, UConn blew the game open for a first time. After Lane retired Hill to start the inning, he walked Sundberg to put a runner on. That brought Mike Gambino from the dugout, and lefty Dan Metzdorf was summoned to take on a lefty in Daniello.
Metzdorf beaned Daniello with a 1-2 pitch, however, putting two on with one out. After he walked Melley to load the bases, Gambino once again came out from the dugout to make a pitching change, this time to Bobby Skogsbergh. Skogsbergh first faced slugger Willy Yahn, who took a 3-1 offering to right center to score two, making it 3-0 in favor of the Huskies.
With Melley advanced to third, Joe DeRoche-Duffin hit a sacrifice fly to score a third run, making it 4-0 after four.
The Eagles finally woke up in the eighth. Despite two perfect innings out of Dandeneau, UConn head coach Jim Penders went to his bullpen for right-hander Devin Over. Over retired Logan Hoggarth to start the inning, but Jake Palomaki, after working deep into the count for a 3-2 pitch, singled through the right side to put a runner on. Over rallied to strike out Joe Cronin on a pay-off delivery, but Michael Strem singled to right, winding up on second when the Huskies attempted to get the lead runner Palomaki at third.
Over pitched around the next batter in the form of Donovan Casey, walking him to load the bases. That brought out Penders once more, and UConn replaced Over with Doug Domnarski. Domnarski wound up 2-1 against catcher Stephen Sauter, who found a fastball coming on a fastball pitch for a crushing double to left center. That cleared the bases, bringing BC back in by one with a 4-3 score after Gian Martellini struck out to end the inning against Randy Polonia, who relieved Domnarski after just one batter.
But the ninth was a disaster for the Birdballers. John Nicklas started the inning with a walk against Keith Krueger. Hill attempted to bunt him over to second, but the ball trickled deep into no man's land down the first base side, and Nicklas rushed a toss to first that sailed over the head of Palomaki covering the bag. That put runners on second and third for Sundberg, who laced a single through the infield, who was playing in, to score Krueger and increase the lead back to two at 5-3.
That chased Nicklas from the game in favor of lefty Kevin Connor, who rallied the troops with a strikeout of Daniello to start the inning. But with one out and two out, Melley roped a single to center to score both runners, making it 7-3. Yahn singled up the middle to move Melley into scoring position, and Duffin plated him with a bomb to center that moved Yahn up to third in the process. Two batters later, with John Witkowski on the hill, catcher Zac Susi singled the last run home for a 9-3 lead.
In the bottom of the inning, Mitch Bigras led off with a double and advanced to third two batters laster, scoring when pinch hitter Connor Bacon grounded out to third as a conceded run. Jake Palomaki popped up to second to end the game, giving the win to the visitors.
Both teams went deep into their pitching staffs, using six pitchers apiece. For BC, Lane (1-1) absorbed the loss, charged with two runs, both earned, in 4.1 innings. He struck out three and allowed only one run, but he walked three after dealing with some control issues spotting his fastball.
He was replaced by Metzdorf, who officially walked one and was charged with two runs. Bobby Skogsbergh, despite a rough start, rallied to throw 3.2 strong innings, righting the ship after a rough fifth inning for BC. He wasn't charged with a run, although he allowed an inherited run to score, striking out two and walking one.
The ninth, which was a mess for the Eagles pitching staff, saw John Nicklas charged with three runs, two earned, on one hit and a walk without recording an out. Connor recorded an out, but he gave up three hits and two runs. John Witkowski was not charged a run, but an inherited runner scored in 0.2 innings.
Nepiarsky (1-0) picked up the win in the start for the Huskies, throwing five innings of shutout baseball, scattering three hits while striking out two and walking two. CJ Dandeneau threw his two perfect innings before handing the ball to Over, who lasted only two outs with three runs on two hits, a K and a walk. Domnarski allowed a hit with the run being charged to Over, while Polonia went 0.1 innings with his lone strikeout in the eighth. Patrick Ruotolo pitched the ninth.
At the dish, BC struggled, with only Stream and Hoggarth recording multi-hit games. Palomaki went 1-5 on the day, and Sauter went 1-3 with three RBI. The only other RBI came on a groundout by Bacon.
For UConn, Yahn was the only one with two hits, but the entire top five in the order recorded at least one hit with four players recording runs batted in, including three with multi-RBI games. Bobby Melley, Jack Sundberg, and Aaron Hill led the way with two runs scored apiece.
Coming off their performance, BC now turns their attention to a quick turnaround. Thanks to a scheduling quirk, the Eagles will play a game at UMass on Wednesday against the Minutemen, with a 3 PM start out in Amherst. UConn, meanwhile, is off until their weekend series against Tulane, their opening series in the AAC.