CORAL GABLES, Fla. — “HIT IT TO THE ADIDAS SIGN!”
Cheers from a raucous crowd of University of Miami fans rang out throughout a packed crowd at Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park. The faithful of the No. 3 team in the nation consistently called on their powerful offense, one that entered Friday hitting .297 as a team, to blast each pitch to their sponsor’s sign in right-center field. Often times, they obliged.
And with every positive refrain for their beloved Hurricanes, there was an equally jarring taunt directed toward a player on Boston College baseball.
“LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT. SIÉNTATE!” That was the chant after BC batter struck out and walked slowly, head down, back to the dugout. Much worse was shouted at the bullpen, though none of it is suitable for print.
As they have done all year, and especially for the last several weeks on their incredible run to the Super Regionals, the Eagles scrapped for the full nine innings. But unlike all the previous times, their bullpen dug too big a hole for them to overcome.
Despite coming into this weekend’s series with overwhelming momentum as one of only two 3-seeds (East Carolina) to advance in the NCAA’s race to the College World Series, No. 20 BC (34-21) was outmatched by Miami (49-11) in a 12-7 defeat to open the NCAA Super Regionals. The Hurricanes are looking for yet another trip to Omaha and the CWS, while the Eagles will have to win the next two games to prevent elimination. Of course, says head coach Mike Gambino, that’s nothing new.
“We’ve been playing for elimination in our last 40 games, it feels like,” Gambino said of his underdog squad, which has quickly become the darlings of the college baseball world. “We’ve been doing that since Week 6 in the ACCs.”
Early on, the Eagles showed that scrappy grit. They got on the board quickly on Miami starter Michael Mediavilla. A single by Michael Strem forced Mediavilla to throw a pickoff attempt into right field, allowing him to get to third and score on a groundout by Nick Sciortino.
That gave ace Justin Dunn, the newest member of the New York Mets after they selected him with the No. 19 pick in Thursday’s Major League Baseball Draft, all the confidence he needed. The righty from Freeport, N.Y. mowed down the top of the ’Canes order in the first, highlighted by a strikeout of Chicago White Sox first-round draft pick, Miami catcher Zack Collins.
Then came that nightmare third inning.
Leadoff hitter Carl Chester lined a base hit off Dunn’s leg, followed by a perfect bunt by Randy Batista. That set up another matchup with Collins. This time, the slugger didn’t miss—Collins parked a ball over that Adidas sign in right-center field for a three-run home run. Two batters later, Johnny Ruiz followed with a blast of his own in the same spot. The once-invincible Dunn had given up twice as many home runs as he had allowed all season in a span of three batters.
Given home plate umpire Bill McGuire’s incredibly poor (albeit consistent) strike zone, in which the far outside part of the plate was often called a strike, Dunn attempted to take advantage. Yet he got each pitch just a little too far over the middle against two hitters who you cannot miss with.
“I made two mistakes, and they hit them,” Dunn said. “It’s just baseball.”
The Eagles began an immediate comeback off Mediavilla in the top of the fourth. Team captain Joe Cronin doubled home Sciortino, with an RBI groundout from Johnny Adams shortly after. Quickly, BC was back in the game.
Yet as the middle innings approached, Dunn tired, forcing Gambino to go to the bullpen in the sixth. Dan Metzdorf and John Witkowski couldn’t keep runners off the bases and a two-run double from No. 9 hitter Edgar Michelangeli extended Miami’s lead to 6-3.
Meanwhile, Mediavilla began to settled down and work on a gem. The sophomore lefty with a nasty slide step kept the Eagles uncomfortable with a strong breaking ball and devastating fastball. In 7 2/3 innings, Mediavilla only gave up those three runs on four hits and three walks, striking out seven on a career-high 123 pitches for his 11th win of the season.
While Mediavilla strengthened, BC’s bullpen only got weaker.
The combination of Zach Stromberg, Brian Rapp, and Jack Nelson all struggled mightily to find the strike zone in the seventh and eighth innings. The trio combined to give up six runs, capped off by a grand slam by Ruiz for his second home run of the day. A once attainable 3-run deficit soon turned into a 12-3 blowout.
Yet rolling over isn’t something BC knows how to do. With Miami sending rarely used reliever Ryan Guerra to the mound, the Eagles’ bats got to work. After a single by Donovan Casey and a walk by Adams, pinch hitter Scott Braren blasted a three-run home run down the right-field line to cut the deficit to 12-6. Logan Hoggarth and Chris Balogh followed with walks, forcing Guerra out and setup man Devin Meyer in. Strem then lined a base hit up the middle and Sciortino walked with the bases loaded. 12-7 ballgame. Bases loaded. Two outs. A game that seemed out of reach was now a save chance for closer Bryan Garcia.
“The mindset is just pass it on to the next guy,” Cronin said. “And then obviously you think about that inning can change a weekend.”
He’s certainly right. It gave BC an opportunity to burn through some of the Hurricanes’ bullpen, just as they had done to the Eagles. Most notably, it gave them a chance to see Miami’s closer. And though Casey went down swinging, Gambino was proud of the grit in his ballclub.
“I had confidence in them before that happened, and I’m not surprised this team is going to go down swinging and with a fight,” Gambino said.
The Eagles are no strangers to having their backs against the wall. All season, no one outside of Chestnut Hill thought Birdball—predicted to finish dead last in the ACC—would have a winning record, much less make it to the postseason. For Cronin, there’s no reason to count his boys out. After all, they fought back to make it a save situation with four runs in the ninth and the bases loaded. Backs against the wall? Please That’s right where the Eagles want to be.
“It speaks to us as a team all year, we’re never going to give up, we’re going to keep battling,” Cronin said. “Hopefully it sets the tone for tomorrow, and then we’ll take that into Sunday.”
They’ve got their chance to stay alive Saturday afternoon at 12 p.m., with the time of the game pending the unpredictable Florida weather. Mike King, the team’s co-ace with Dunn, will head onto the bump to preserve BC’s season against Miami’s 9-3 left-hander Danny Garcia. There are few pitchers that exert a similar confidence in big game situations quite like King, the Warwick, R.I. native who boasts a 7-4 record with a 3.21 earned run average.
If Miami’s big bats come out swinging again, the game might just as well be at 11:59pm for this Cinderella squad. But the later it gets, the better the Eagles become.
Featured Image by Cai Thomas / Heights Staff