Joe Cronin is fancying himself a certified Beanpot legend.
Last season, playing for a championship on Fenway Park's hallowed lawn, the then-junior belted a two-run homer over the Green Monster, putting a ball deep into the Boston night to give Boston College a 2-0 lead over UMass. The blast was all the Eagles needed en route to winning their first Beanpot in four years, by the same score.
One year later, Cronin did it again to UMass, only this time it happened late.
Tied 1-1 in the eighth and engaged in a pitching staff duel with the Minutmen in their Beanpot first round game, the Eagles stalwart combined with junior Michael Strem to earn the right to defend their title in the championship game. With two outs, a Strem single and stolen base combined with a wild pitch by pitcher Mike Geannellis to put a runner on third. That enabled Cronin to knock a single to right, bringing the run home and giving BC all they would need in a 2-1 victory.
Thomas Lane and Kevin Hassett settled the game into a pitcher's duel early, taking a scoreless game into the fourth inning. Lane pitched himself out of jams in the first and third, while Hassett allowed only one base runner through the first seven batters he faced. When he finally ran into a jam in the bottom of the third, BC capitalized.
Mitch Bigras led off the inning with a single, then advanced to third on a single to right by Johnny Adams. After Hassett walked Jake Palomaki to load the bases, he struck out Dominic Hardaway for the first out but surrendered a sacrifice fly to Strem to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead. Palomaki and Adams moved into scoring position thanks to a double steal, but Cronin struck out looking to end the threat.
Owing to the game's midweek status, neither starter lasted much longer. Lane got out of the fourth in order but Hassett was replaced with Tim Cassidy to start the bottom half. Lane would start the fifth inning but after a walk (who was picked off of first) and a single, Zach Stromberg came onto pitch. Despite the move to the bullpens, neither offense got its juices going and the game remained 1-1 into the late innings.
UMass eventually broke onto the board in the top of the seventh against Stromberg. With one down after a lead off fly ball, back to back singles by Jon Avallone and Ryan Lever put runners at the corners. Mike Gambino summoned Brian Rapp from the bullpen for the second straight game but Vinny Scifo laid down a bunt that scored the runner from third. Rapp committed an error on the play that moved both runners into scoring position at second and third, but he rallied back with two straight strikeouts to end the inning.
While BC didn't get anything going against Geannellis in the seventh, John Witkowski held the Minutemen at bay in the eighth. That set up the aforementioned heroics by Strem and Cronin.
Jesse Adams came out of the bullpen for the ninth inning and retired the Minutemen in order, inducing two grounders before striking out Avallone to end the game and send the Eagles into the championship game.
BC will now face Northeastern, who also won a one-run ballgame in the Beanpot first round (3-2 over Harvard), in the championship game on April 20th. The consolation and championship games will be played this year at the New England Baseball Complex in Northborough, Massachusetts. Times of the games have yet to be determined.
In the box score, both BC and UMass combined for 13 hits, with the only multi-hit games coming from Avallone and Scifo for the Minutemen. Scifo went 2-for-3 with the run scored while Avallone went 2-for-4.
Hassett finished with three innings for UMass, striking out three with one walk and a run allowed on just two hits. Cassidy then pitched three innings with threestrikeouts and no walks, also allowing two hits, and Geannelis (0-2) finished with two innings - also with two hits allowed - but gave up the run/decision while striking out two with no walks.
For BC, Lane went 4.1 complete innings with three hits allowed, three strikeouts and a walk while keeping his pitch count down to 67. Zach Stromberg pitched two innings but gave up the game-tying run with two strikeouts and three hits allowed. After Brian Rapp recorded two outs, John Witkowski (1-0) picked up the win with his perfect efforts in the eighth, and Jesse Adams (1) earned the save by likewise doing so in the ninth.
The Eagles, who are now 18-11 on the season, have now won four straight games, their longest winning streak this season since they opened up the year 7-0. They improved to 34-16-1 all-time in the Beanpot and will now play for its 12th Beanpot championship.
More pressingly, however, they'll turn their attention back to ACC play this weekend when they travel west for a rivalry weekend with Notre Dame and former head coach Mik Aoki. All three games are scheduled for broadcast on ESPN3.