It had been 14 months since Luke Fernandes last pitched a baseball in competitive action. In that time, he'd become something of a program spokesperson, the preseason interviewer of freshmen and the postgame microphone worker for the team's YouTube channel. It was a position that made him something of the face of the program.
Behind the scene, however, he continued to work physically back from Tommy John surgery, and despite pinch running against the Boston Red Sox in their annual exhibition game, there was always the anticipation of if and when he would be able to come back and throw one more time.
For the redshirt junior, that came on Sunday.
With the score no longer in doubt at 9-3, Fernandes toed the rubber for the first time in over a year and delivered 16 pitches to the Niagara Purple Eagles. He allowed a hit, walked one, and struck out one, but he closed out a BC win as the Eagle swept their visiting opponents in a short two-game series on Sunday. The win was Boston College's fourth straight, and it pushed them within one victory of hitting the coveted 30-wins mark.
It was a fairytale ending to a game that nearly started as a nightmare. For the first time all weekend, the Eagles trailed, thanks to a three run top of the first by the Purple Eagles against Brian Rapp. Walks to Julian Gallup, Greg Cullen, and Greg Rodgers gave Niagara loaded bases with only one out, a situation on which they capitalized on when Owen Dziados doubled with two outs. The hit scored everyone, and Niagara grabbed a 3-0 lead.
Any panic quickly subdued when BC came to bat in the bottom of the first. The Eagles loaded the bases with two outs after a single, a hit batsman, and a walk, with some extracurricular activities in between. Johnny Adams, who is transforming into a pitcher's worst nightmare in the last month, drove in two with a single to left, followed up by a Logan Hoggarth single to tie the game at 3-3 as the Eagles batted around.
They took the lead, never to look back, in the bottom of the second. After Jake Palomaki walked, he stole second and third, scoring when Michael Strem singled him home. Strem then stole second and third, scoring on a wild pitch during a couple of issued walks, giving the Eagles a 5-3 lead.
The same characters blew the game open for good in the fourth. After Nick Sciortino and Joe Cronin walked, Adams singled in Sciortino from second. An error out in left enabled Cronin to make it to third while Adams wound up on second. That set up Hoggarth, who singled them both in, giving BC an 8-3 lead.
The Eagles tacked on an RBI single by Sciortino in the eighth to complete their scoring.
On the hill, Brian Rapp settled in after the rough first inning to throw three complete frames. He allowed no runs after the first, giving up only two hit and striking out two. He didn't walk anyone after hi first inning, credited with the win (2-2).
The rest of the staff did not give up a run. Zach Stromberg surrendered a hit in the fourth before senior John Nicklaus threw the fifth and sixth, striking out one and walking one. John Witkowski and Donovan Casey each pitched an inning, with Casey throwing a perfect eighth, before Fernandes came on for the ninth.
For Niagara, Tyler Howard (1-1) absorbed the loss, throwing two innings and giving up five runs on four hit. He struck out four, but he walked five as the Purp staff issued ten free passes in all to the Eagles. Michael Bucci gave up three runs in two innings on two hits, walking three with no strikeouts, before Austin Miller and Robert Wilson pitched three combined shutout innings. Matt McCuen pitched the eighth with a run allowed on two hits.
At the plate for BC, Johnny Adams went 2-4 with a run and three RBI. He extended his hitting streak to 12 games, now the longest this year for his team, and he now has 30 hits in his last 20 games. The hitting streak is up to 10th overall in BC program history.
Also of note, Jake Palomaki drew two more walks, bringing him to 82 career free passes in just his sophomore season. He needs one more to crack the program's all-time top 10, and he's reached base in 40 of 47 games this year.
Michael Strem's double gave him 44 on his career, good enough for ninth all-time in BC history, while Joe Cronin's two walks gave him 110, two away from a record set by last year's graduate, Blake Butera.
The Eagles won for the 29th time this season, bringing them within one victory of the coveted 30-win mark, which they haven't reached since 2010. BC will go for that wins mark on Tuesday when they host Maine at the Birdcage for a 4 PM first pitch.
(All stats/record courtesy of BC athletics)