June 3, 2011

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Red Storm Rises Against Pirates

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder


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 selection show.


“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.