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Boston College Baseball: Tournament Is Ultimate Reward For Birdball's Core

Everyone said it couldn't be done.

Courtesy BC Athletics | John Quackenbos

Everyone who plays for a northern school knows the commentary.

You can't win, especially in a southern league, and you can't recruit players capable of winning. The weather stinks, and when you're playing in a league with some of the best teams in the nation, there's no shot of ever becoming relevant, let alone a contender. Don't even get them started on facilities.

For the players suiting up for Boston College, a bid to the national tournament is something of a confirmation or affirmation. It's the ability to prove wrong all of the naysayers who said, quite simply, this couldn't be done. In particular, this is vindication for a senior class who helped lay the groundwork that took the team from 12 wins in their freshman campaign to 31 wins and contender status in their senior year.

In 2013, the bottom fell out on the baseball program. Despite making the NCAA Tournament in 2009, the Eagles won just 12 games four years later. They went 4-25 in the ACC, winning just four games at home. They barely hit .200 as a team, amassing a .209 batting average, and they scored only 174 runs. At one point during that year, BC was 6-34, and they lost their first 20 league games.

It was impossible to tell that the groundwork had been laid for a national contender. It was a team that had only five seniors, forcing head coach Mike Gambino to play a majority of younger players. Gabriel Hernandez, Stephen Sauter, Logan Hoggarth, Joe Cronin, and Chris Shaw - all freshmen - all played 40 or more games. They struggled in the nation's best league, with only Sauter as the best hitter at .226.

What gets lost in that year is what happened down the season's last month. BC, at 0-20 in league play, won four out of five games at one point, including a series victory over Miami and a three game winning streak. Down the end of the season, they finished over .500, going 6-5 in their final 11 games, including a one-run victory over Maryland in the season's last weekend.

Perhaps it was the larger body of work, but that was overlooked as a catalyst for the Eagles. The next year, they won 22 games, a modest improvement. Their now-sophomore class found its groove, with Shaw improving to .329 and Cronin upping his average to .291. The team itself improved its average to .244, and the pitching staff improved with newcomers Bobby Skogsbergh (4-0 in 19 appearances) and Mike King (2-2 with a 2.93 ERA in 16 appearances with three starts).

That led to last year. Shaw hit .319 and Hoggarth hit .300. Through Cronin dropped to .223, Sauter reemerged as a hitting threat, blasting a .272 average. The team upped its average by another 20 percentage points, bolstered in the middle by Blake Butera's .284 average and Jake Palomaki's .289. The offense finally outscored opponents (273-266).

On the mound, things started to come together. After starting the year in the bullpen, Mike King became a front-of-the-rotation starter, though his 1-5 record might've said otherwise. Flamethrower Justin Dunn lowered his ERA from over 7.00 to 4.94, and he led the team with five saves. BC had a bunch of pieces, but they just hadn't figured it out. When Shaw went down with an injury, joined on the shelf by Jeff Burke after eight starts, any hope of the Eagles making the NCAA Tournament were dashed. A team that won four games at home two years prior now went 16-6 at home, though their 5-18 road record doomed them to another year outside of the national picture.

Following the upward trajectory, it's easy to see why this year's team was able to do what it did. But that's where everyone chose to ignore it. After all, a northern program can't win, and it can't recruit players capable of developing into top players in the ACC, right? The ACC is where teams like Florida State, Miami, and Clemson produce championships and future MLB All Star, not where Boston College develops a winner over four years.

In the face of that adversity, the Eagles did exactly that. To achieve what they have boils down to one thing - commitment. When they were recruited, the core of this Boston College team had to have know they were going to play and, at times, get pasted. Outside of Chris Shaw and, later, Justin Dunn, nobody really drew attention from the MLB Draft before they went to college. There were no national stars like DJ Stewart, Buster Posey, or Seth Beer. There was just a bunch of guys who had to commit to a process that would require patience as outside voices told them it couldn't be done.

Mike Gambino constantly says that it "takes a special kind of player" to play at Boston College. To be a northeast baseball player, you have to have a certain attitude, a type of heart that can't be measured on talent alone. You play with a chip on your shoulder that pushes you to shovel out your batting cage to take swings while the southern schools laugh and criticize. You fight every day for four years to achieve just once what Miami's done for the past 45 consecutive years.

And when that day came, you celebrate like nobody's ever seen before because you know what it means to you - especially when everyone said it couldn't be done.