June 3, 2011
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Regional Scores & Schedules
Red Storm Rises Against Pirates
By Sean Ryan
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. –
Last Sunday, after dropping the championship game
of the Big East tournament to Seton Hall, St. John’s coach Ed
Blankmeyer told his team it was on the bubble, and there was
nothing it could do about the selection to the NCAA tournament
the next day.
According to lefty pitcher Sean Hagan, the team
originally wasn’t going to meet as a team, but on Monday
morning, players got a text to meet in the locker room for the
“Most of the guys were sitting there, kind of
upset,” Hagan said. “Our bags were halfway packed.”
The Red Storm ended up packing for another road
trip instead of summer vacation.
And a few days after being surprised with an
invite to the NCAA tournament, third-seeded St. John’s will get
the chance to face the No. 1 team in the land, Virginia, after
slipping past second-seeded East Carolina 2-0 in its
Charlottesville Regional opener Friday night at Davenport Field.
Earlier in the day, the Cavaliers blanked Navy 6-0.
Hagan, who entered his eighth start with a 4.55
ERA, allowed nine hits and struck out six in 7.1 scoreless
innings. He got a little help from his defense along the way –
particularly Jimmy Brennan’s diving catch in center in the first
– and closer Matt Carasiti, who picked up his eighth save with
1.2 innings of relief.
The Pirates (39-20) put runners on first and
third in the bottom of the eighth as Zach Wright walked, and Ben
Fultz (2 for 4) singled down the right-field line. Carasiti
entered and bounced a slider that Joe Witkowski blocked to save
a run, but Fultz moved up to second with one out. Carasiti and
John Wooten battled to a 3-2 count before Wooten fouled off a
couple pitches. But Carasiti froze him with a filthy slider for
the second out. Behind 2-0, the right-hander with a fastball
touching 94, went soft again to Chase McDonald (2 for 4) and
ended up getting the ECU designated hitter to pop out to right.
In the ninth, East Carolina had runners on second
and third with two outs (another wild pitch allowed the runners
to move up) and Trent Whitehead up. On a two-strike offering,
Whitehead bounced a ball toward center that shortstop Joe Panik
corralled and fired to first to end the game.
“Ten hits and leave 12 on, that doesn’t bode well
for success in this game,” Pirates coach Billy Godwin said. “You
don’t have to be a baseball guru to know that.”
The Red Storm (36-20) scored single runs in the
third and fourth inning. Kevin Grove had a sacrifice fly, and
Brennan (3 for 5) delivered a RBI single off Mike Wright (6-4).
Brennan also made a huge impact when Hagan (7-2) was struggling
in the first. After two quick outs, Hagan loaded the bases and
Wooten ripped a shot to left center, where Brennan measured his
steps and safely made a diving catch to escape danger.
“That was huge,” Hagan said. “That could have
changed the game. That was two runs, maybe three.”
Hagan settled in, saying he made use of a
new-found change up that has helped him go 4-0 with a 1.33 ERA
in his last seven appearances (three starts).
“He was just one of those crafty lefty kind of
guys,” ECU catcher Zach Wright said. “He wasn’t going to blow
you away. He had all his offspeed working together.”
Now, for the second straight season, the Red
Storm get a chance to play Virginia on its home field. Last year
in the Charlottesville Regional, St. John’s upset the Cavaliers
and forced a second game, won by Virginia.
“They’ve got a little chip on their shoulder
because people are against you,” said assistant coach Mike
Hampton, who was subbing for Blankmeyer (serving third game of
three-game suspension for being ejected in Big East tourney
game), of the Red Storm’s spot in the tournament. “Our team is
from different parts of the country, but we’re in New York,
we’re New Yorkers.”
Brennan called Monday’s selection “one of the
best experiences of my life” and said that Blankmeyer told his
team it had about a 20 percent chance to get in the Field of 64.
“It’s a special feeling,” Brennan said. “We
thought that we belonged and this first game hopefully showed
that we do belong. We’re going to come out tomorrow and give
them all we’ve got.”
Brennan will reacquaint
himself with an old friend in Virginia’s Steven Proscia. The two
grew up playing against each other in Little League in New York.
Brennan is from Airmont and played at Suffern High School and
Proscia is from Suffern and played at nearby Don Bosco Prep.
Hagan helped himself with
several nice plays, including a slick 1-6-3 double play off the
bat of McDonald.
Both teams were aggressive,
especially ECU, which attacked the first pitch all night.
Godwin didn’t tip his hand
on whom the Pirates might start against Navy. It appears it
might be someone other than ace Seth Maness (9-3, 1.88), as
Godwin said: “We’re not here to win games, we’re here to win
this tournament.” ECU could try to slip past Navy without using
Maness and save him for its next game.
St. John’s will turn to
sophomore Kyle Hansen to meet Virginia’s Danny Hultzen, whom
some predict will be the first pick in next week’s Major League
Draft. “It’s going to be a challenge,” Brennan said. “We’ve got
our guy on the mound, they’ve got their guy.”
St. John’s faced Ole Miss
lefty ace Drew Pomeranz last year in Charlottesville and
barreled some balls up. Brennan said he didn’t face Pomeranz,
but thought it helped that the Red Storm has faced Georgia
Tech’s Jed Bradley, one of the best lefties in the country.