Veteran Birdball Makes Rookie Mistakes In Home Opener Loss to UConn

With Boston College baseball down 4-0 to the University of Connecticut, cleanup hitter Donovan Casey strolled into the batter’s box looking to spark a BC offense that had only mustered three hits on the day. Instead of swinging for a gapper like a traditional No. 4 hitter, Casey squared to bunt. He missed. Four pitches later, he struck out.

The decision to bunt in the face of a four-run deficit was especially puzzling given the previous at-bat, where No. 3 hitter Michael Strem bunted back to the pitcher for the first out of the sixth inning.

Desperate for baserunners in the seventh inning, head coach Mike Gambino turned to freshman Gian Martellini to start a rally. The designated hitter walked up to the tune of Yvis’ laughable, viral, 2013 hit “The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)”—chosen for him by the team’s upperclassmen, as is the new tradition for freshmen.

What did the umpire say? Strike three. The strikeout was one of the Eagles’ seven strikeouts looking against UConn pitchers.

For seven innings, BC couldn’t time up any of the Huskies’ arms, stringing together shockingly passive plate appearances despite the desperate need for runs. There was no urgency and no fire in the home opener at Shea Field.

“I thought they were completely non-competitive,” Gambino said of his team’s at-bats. “I don’t know how we can come out flat first game at home, back in the Birdcage, rivalry game … I’m really disappointed in this group right now.”

In the eighth inning, the Eagles finally showed some signs of life at the plate. Jake Palomaki singled to right, and Strem popped one into shallow right field that was misplayed by the second baseman. With the bases loaded and two outs, Stephen Sauter delivered the big hit that had eluded BC all afternoon, hammering a bases-clearing double to left field that cut UConn’s lead to 4-3. But Martellini followed up Sauter’s clutch hit with another strikeout to end the inning.

The Eagles (13-9, 3-6 Atlantic Coast) couldn’t pull off any late-inning magic after their bullpen collapsed in the top of the ninth inning, allowing five insurance runs for the Huskies (12-11) and losing 9-4 on a sad, cold, windy day at Shea Field.

Nearly two dozen games into the season, it’s becoming clear what type of team Gambino is trying to build in his sixth year on the Heights. This is a malleable lineup that, from top to bottom, can play anywhere on the field and hit anywhere in the lineup. These players aren’t flashy—they’re scrappy. It’s a team built on pitching and defense, throwing strikes and making plays behind a solid rotation. The cleanup hitter bunts. The ace pitches to contact. What they lack in raw talent they make up for with experience and high baseball IQs.

But for a veteran team, Gambino’s squad made too many rookie mistakes on Tuesday.

First, it was an error on Palomaki that set up UConn’s first scoring opportunity. Then it was the inability of starter Thomas Lane and the bullpen to find the strike zone, walking six and hitting two batters against a Husky lineup that didn’t need to be pitched around.  And then it was failing to take advantage of fastballs over the plate in the middle innings, an overly-patient mentality that contributed to 13 total strikeouts for BC. Finally, worst of all, two errors in the ninth inning officially pushed the game out of reach as the wheels came off for Birdball.

Tuesday marked the third time this season the Eagles committed three errors. Although they have shown flashes of brilliance this year, a pattern of shaky defense, bullpen struggles, and poor approaches at the plate is starting to emerge. Now, at risk of suffering their seventh loss in the last eight games, Gambino needs to find a way to end this slump.

One of the lone bright spots in an otherwise frustrating offensive outing came from Logan Hoggarth. The senior had two of BC’s first three hits, piecing together aggressive plate appearances when the rest of his team went quiet.

“I was just staying with a simple approach: Think fastball, react to curveball,” Hoggarth said. “We need to improve on two-strike hitting. We’re taking too many fastballs for strike three.”

It’s a problem of energy and assertiveness that is surprising given the gritty feel of the team. Gambino’s ballclub has the heart, and it has the pieces needed for success. But enough with waiting at the plate—the Eagles need to ditch their docile attitude, lace up their cleats, and step in the box against UMass on Wednesday with the same confidence they had two weeks ago.

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor

March 30, 2016

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