On Tuesday afternoon, the Boston College baseball team played its 26th game of the 2014 regular season-and only its first true home contest this year on Pellagrini Diamond.
Yet, head coach Mike Gambino’s Eagles treated the home crowd to a dramatic 2-1 victory over Connecticut in their final at-bat, besting the Huskies in a quintessential pitcher’s duel.
“We love playing in the Birdcage,” Gambino said. “We love getting back home. It’s hard to put a value on being able to play in your own park.”
Both sides appeared poised to shut each other down from the mound. Despite struggling with pitch control, UConn starting pitcher Andrew Zapata held BC hitless over five innings. Meanwhile, Eagles starter Mike King looked to match Zapata’s effort with effective work of his own. The true freshman struck out a pair of Huskies and only surrendered two walks over five innings of work.
While starting pitching dictated the game early on, anemic offense was just as responsible for the zeroes on the Pellagrini Diamond scoreboard. Both teams struggled to produce with runners on base, leaving valuable scoring opportunities stranded on the bases. In the third frame, the Huskies wasted a golden chance of their own. With the bases loaded and nobody out, catcher Connor David grounded a comebacker to King, who turned it into a slick double play to extinguish the scoring threat.
“He pitched himself out of some jams,” Gambino said of King. “He showed great presence out there.”
The scoreless deadlock was broken in the sixth inning, as BC reliever Jesse Adams allowed a run to score on a pitch in the dirt after putting runners on second and third. Although the Eagles’ bullpen escaped the inning without any further damage, the one-run deficit loomed large on a day when their offense was sputtering.
UConn was on the board thanks to Adams’ miscue, but BC also began to chip away by forcing mistakes out of the opposition. After Cronin awakened the Eagles’ offense with a sixth-inning single, Chris Shaw followed with a searing line drive up the middle for a base knock of his own. Senior Tom Bourdon followed with a sacrifice bunt, which reliever Patrick Ruotolo turned into an unearned run by throwing the ball away at first. Cronin crossed the plate, and the Eagles drew even at one.
Despite putting runners on second and third to keep the scoring threat alive, BC couldn’t muster any more offense against Ruotolo. The reliever whiffed six Eagles in his three innings of work, but was brilliantly countered by BC redshirt freshman Luke Fernandes. After taking over for Adams in the sixth, he pitched over three innings of one-hit baseball to keep the Eagles deadlocked with the Huskies.
“That’s what we’ve grown to expect out of Luke,” Gambino said. “That’s how good he is.”
A relentless battle of the bullpens brought the 1-1 tie into the bottom of the ninth inning, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.
Freshman Michael Strem led off with a screaming line drive up the middle against UConn southpaw David Mahoney, and he eventually moved into scoring position on a well-placed bunt from classmate Nick Sciortino. With two outs and the game threatening to head into extra innings, junior Blake Butera stepped up to the plate.
Butera grounded a Mahoney offering toward UConn shortstop Aaron Hill. What seemed like a routine groundball off of the bat quickly turned into chaos, as a wicked bounce sent the ball careening off of Hill and into centerfield. Strem’s slide beat the throw to the plate, sparking a mob of red jerseys in a walk-off celebration and sending the Eagles home with a victory. With the win, BC snapped a five-game losing skid.
To the veteran infielder who sent BC home with a dramatic win, the clutch at-bat was a step in the right direction for a squad battling to achieve consistency.
“We haven’t had that one big hit, but maybe things will finally start coming now that we’ve gotten that one off of our shoulders,” Butera said. “It’s a big weight off of our shoulders.”