Justin Dunn added six shutout innings to his already incredible season, and Bobby Skogsbergh combined with Jesse Adams to close out the final 3.1 innings as the Boston College Eagles shut out the Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday afternoon, 2-0.
The win improved the Eagles to 22-17 on the season, but more importantly, it improved their conference record to 8-13 after losing the first game of the series to the Hokies (15-29, 5-18).
"With a 30 game ACC schedule, almost every game is a must-win," said head coach Mike Gambino following the victory. "This race is so tight; there's something like two games separating 10th from fifth, and there's a big log jam in the middle. So you feel like every game is a must-win all year, and every time you lose on Friday night, you look to bounce back. We don't necessarily think one game is more important than any others, but it's a playoff race in the ACC and we're right in it, so I'd be lying if I said we didn't really want to win the game."
The win opens the door for the Eagles to jump over a couple of league opponents as May approaches on the horizon. Duke lost to NC State on Friday, meaning a Wolfpack win on Saturday night would give the Eagles a tie with the Blue Devils. Clemson defeated Florida State on Saturday, but the two teams are set to play two more with games on Sunday and Monday. The Tigers moved into sole possession of 10th place while North Carolina sits idle.
After a game in which the Eagles only mustered four hits against Virginia Tech's much-maligned pitching, the Hokies kept them at bay once more, this time only for two runs while stranding seven.
But that was all BC needed. They took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second, rallying against Packy Naughton with one out. After Gian Martellini struck out on three pitches, Johnny Adams roped the first pitch he saw the opposite way, singling to right. Logan Hoggarth then singled to the left side, and Mitch Bigras took a 2-1 fast ball from Naughton down the right field line. It got through first baseman Phil Sciretta, allowing Adams to score from second. With runners on first and third after the play, however, Naughton reached back and struck out Gabe Hernandez, then retired Jake Palomaki to end the threat.
BC would add a second run in the fifth, scoring quickly against Naughton. Jake Palomaki walked to open up the inning, moving up a base when Nick Sciortino sacrificed him over with a bunt. That set up Michael Strem, who worked an incredible at-bat, spoiling no less than four pitches, before singling up the middle. Palomaki slid home with the run on the relay throw, giving BC their 2-0 lead.
Naughton was adept at pitching out of trouble through the rest of his outing, surrendering seven hits and walking two with 100 pitches on his arm in six innings. But he didn't allow any more runs despite BC putting a runner on third in the second and third. The Eagles only went down in order once through his outing but couldn't push any other runs across.
While Naughton, a Massachusetts native, danced in and out of trouble, Justin Dunn was completely dominant. Dunn threw 5.2 innings with 111 pitches, his most thrown all year. He struck out six, a career high, and walked four - though two came in his final inning of work in the sixth. Now firmly entrenched as a weekend the starter, the process of bringing him along was fully on display on Saturday.
"We built him up (to get to this point)," said Gambino. "We wanted him about 100, and it was a soft 100. We didn't really want him going any more than that, but he was throwing the ball great with good matchups there at the end. Then he just sort of tired. The last three or four pitches he tired, but he still had his fastball and his breaking stuff until that last hitter.
That last hitter came in the sixth. After surrendering a leadoff single, he induced a fly ball to Sam Fragale for the first out. Then Ryan Tufts worked a full count and walked, and even though Garrett Hudson grounded out to short in a tailor-made double play, the umpire said BC ruled Tufts was safe at second, extending the inning. Dunn then walked Matt Dauby, forcing Gambino to pull him in favor of Bobby Skogsbergh.
"Honestly, I wasn't even really trying to throw hard (over a long outing)," said Dunn. "It's a 'playing catch' mentality with (catcher Nick Sciortino) and me working together, putting the ball where he wants to. I definitely felt good, and this was one of the best times I've felt all year. But we had a great gameplan going into this weekend, and it was just a matter of going out and executing that gameplan."
Despite the solid outing, Dunn exited with a threatening situation and placed trust in Skogsbergh. Facing Joe Freiday, Jr, who hit a three-run homer on Friday, Skogsbergh threw two pitches to the right-handed slugger. The second was popped up behind the plate, where Sciortino reached up and grabbed it for the third out, ending the threat.
"I felt good in the bullpen," said Skogsbergh, "and I was just working on keeping the ball down. So I come in and I knew I had to make a pitch, and (Sciortino) did a great job keeping me in the zone. I threw a couple of breaking balls and was fortunate to get out of there without any damage."
Skogsbergh took the game into the ninth, where he faced pinch hitter Andrew Mogg. Striking out Mogg on a full count pitch, his day ended with 2.2 innings and three hits, two strikeouts, and no walks in 10 batters faced. Skogsbergh threw 33 pitches, of which 20 were strikes, before handing the ball to Jesse Adams.
Adams immediately got the second out but after walking Tom Stoffel, Sciretta hit one to shortstop that would've ended the game. But Johnny Adams slipped on the dirt and booted the ball, allowing both runners to reach base. Still with two outs, the southpaw bore down and retired Anderson with a groundout bouncer that Jesse fielded at the mound, planted, and threw to the awaiting Mitch Bigras at first, ending the game and giving BC the victory.
For the Eagles, the victory evened the series but highlighted the importance of playing on Sunday that much more. Still right in the thick of the ACC postseason race, the Eagles turn to the rubber match and hand the ball to incumbent ace Mike King. King will face a starter to be determined for the Hokies with the first pitch now scheduled for 11 AM.