Niagara Purple Eagles vs. Boston College Eagles
Saturday First Pitch: 4 PM
Sunday First Pitch: 1 PM
Six years ago, Mike Gambino was a 32-year old, first-time head coach coaching his first games at Boston College. While he was coaching games with players recruited under a past regime, he began working behind the scenes to recruit a class that would provide the foundation for a run to the NCAA Tournament.
It was something that required patience. Because his first year was 2011, it would take a couple of years to get his recruits into the school as freshmen. Four years after that, with four recruiting classes under his belt, the hope was that the program would be competitive to the levels it was with the recruiting classes brought in by Gambino's mentor, Pete Hughes.
Struggling through his first three seasons, which included two sub-20 win years, it's understandable to see why fans gave up with that patience. But the seeds were planted, seeds that are growing in the present day.
This weekend, that first class recruited by Gambino, the class that entered Boston College in 2013, is honored in two of their final home games at Shea Field. Freshmen during the 2013 season, they've blossomed into the kinds of players who exemplify the Birdball way - tough, rugged, undervalued players who know how to grind and grit their way to wins.
With their foundation, Boston College is back in the ACC hunt and trending upwards. The team isn't where they want to be quite yet, but they're closer to that than they are to where they were. It took time, but Boston College baseball is punching well above its weight class in a league where teams are better funded with facilities that are light years beyond the Eagles.
It's something these seniors can hang their hats on as they take their final cuts - hopefully en route to a trip to Durham and to the NCAA Tournament.
Overall: 16-30-1 (11-10 MAAC)
Last Time Out: The Purps are coming off a doubleheader sweep loss at the hands of the Buffalo Bulls, having dropped both games, 9-2 and 4-3. Last weekend, they played Manhattan College in MAAC action out at home, winning on Sunday after losing both ends of a doubleheader on Saturday.
Around The Horn
Niagara has three regular hitterswho are batting above the .300 mark - Michael Fuhrman, Tanner Kirwer, and Greg Cullen. Fuhrman leads the lot with a .364 batting average, but Kirwer has the most RBI with 29. Cullen is the biggest threat on the base paths with 80 total bases.
The three-headed monster is the biggest challenge for the Birdballers, who will likely have to deal with Julian Gallup as well. Gallup leads the team with three homers, tallying 25 RBI and 43 hits to go along with his .291 batting average.
As a team, this is a solid hitting club. Niagara enters the weekend at .273. Granted they've played the majority of their games against non-power conference competition, but it shows that the Purple Eagles are capable of putting the bat on the ball.
That said, there is a big time drop off among regular players. After Gallup, the next best hitter is batting .278, but he's only played in 25 game. So it would appear that BC's pitching staff will need mostly to get through parts of the lineup and not step on any mines during the rest of the way.
On The Bump
Normally, the Eagles would have to roll out depth pitchers against a midweek opponent, potentially using four or five guys for two innings - maybe more, maybe less - through the single game. But because this is a two-game series over a weekend, they'll be able to roll out their weekend staff and bolster their bullpen with whomever doesn't start.
That goes for Niagara as well. The Pups have three regular starters - Cody Eckerson, Zachary Kolodziejski, and Daniel Procopio. Two of those three will draw starts against the best BC has to offer.
Of those starters, Kolodziejski is probably the best option, though it's not just because he's also the toughest name to type. He's thrown a staff-high 71.1 innings this year, with 56 strikeouts to just 27 walks. Although he has a 4.67 ERA, he's given up 13 unearned runs this year, meaning his defense doesn't bail him out at all.
Like his teammate, Eckerson is one of the team's premier options. At 4-3 on the year, he's thrown a complete game and has completed just over 59 innings this year. He doesn't walk many guys, and he's pushing a nearly 5:1 strikeouts-to-walks-ratio.
Procopio is the third starter, but he's 1-7 with a 9.79 ERA. He's probably going to be the odd man out this weekend.
UPDATE: The pitching matchups for the weekend have been announced. Mike King will start on Saturday with Justin Dunn and Jacob Stevens all seeing action (the three weekend starters) while Brian Rapp will start on Sunday and split time with the bullpen. Kolodziejski starts on Saturday for the Purps with Sunday's pitcher to be determined.
Talk about your absolutely perfect weekends. Remember the snow from April? Those days are long gone.
Saturday's game is going to hit the high heat of the day to start. At about 4 PM in Boston, it's going to be a shade about 75 degrees with light humidity and partly cloudy skies. The temperature will drop but remain in the high 60s throughout the evening. Fans attending the game can expect a good breeze which should take the edge off.
Sunday will be cloudy and cool, with temperatures only pushing into the high 50s. That's a bummer compared to Saturday, but it's still a great day for baseball.
Where in the World is Boston College Baseball?
For their final weekend this season, the Eagles are at home, though they have one game left on Tuesday.
Music to Get Absolutely Fried with
The Golden Girls theme song - Thank You (for Being a Friend)
I'm always sentimental on Senior Day, mostly because I cover a team all season long. It's the end of a ride, and it's the end of a four-year journey for these guys. As I've started to get a little older, I've learned to appreciate both aspects. It's always nice to take a breather at the end of a long season, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit sad to see it coming to a close.
That said, I'll do one last thing here to recognize this recruiting class.There's one player who won't be with them on Shea Field being recognized because, well, his BC career ended with off-the-field fanfare. Chris Shaw was part of this class, but after becoming eligible for the draft last year, the San Francisco Giants ended his college career by picking him in the first round.
Shaw is one of the Giants' top prospects, and he's been lighting up San Jose these days. We'll check back with him after the season, but it's worth noting that he was also part of this class.
Random Fact(s) of the Week
Niagara has never been to the national tournament. They last played in the postseason back in 2006 when they finished tied for third in the MAAC. Overall, they've played in five MAAC Tournaments, having won the North Division back in 1997 before making four straight between 2003-2006.
Prior to 1990, the Purps played four seasons in the ECAC after playing their program's history as an independent.
It's worth noting that the MAAC has exactly one NCAA victory in the past 10 years. After Manhattan won two games in the 2006 tournament, the league went on a 15 game losing streak until Siena beat Dallas Baptist in an elimination game in 2014.
In that ten year span, the MAAC has played in five games where the result was decided by two or less runs. The league representative's given up ten or more runs nine times since that '06 run. Last year, Canisius was blown out by MIssouri State and Oregon, 14-1 and 12-6.
The MAAC Baseball Tournament was originally played at Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill, NY, the home of both the Manhattan Jaspers and the Hudson Valley Renegades. The Fishkill prison is visible from the stadium.
Last year, the championship moved to New Jersey, where it was played at FirstEnergy Park - the home of the single-A Lakewood BlueClaws (Philadelphia Phillies). It's also been played in Trenton at the home of the Trenton Thunder and in Troy at the home of the Tri-City ValleyCats.
Look, I've been talking about next week a ton lately, but there's still baseball to be played. If I'm Boston College, the exam break probably made me itch to get back out on the field and out of my dorm, library, study hall, or wherever it is that they're hitting the books. I'm rearing to get on the field and finish things up, which means I'm taking two wins this weekend.
There is no room for error on BC's season the rest of the way, so don't make this weekend any more adventurous than it probably has to be.