Top Story, Spring

Stevens, Timely Hitting Lift Eagles Over No. 4 Louisville

With a runner on first, only one man out, and black clouds rolling in, Louisville threatened Boston College baseball in the seventh inning. The Eagles appeared to have a commanding five-run lead, and should have prepared to coast for the remaining three frames. Yet when you’re up against a lineup like the Cardinals, whose one through six hitters all bat at least .324—yeah, you heard me—there’s never an opportunity to coast.

Unless you’ve got a battery like BC’s.

On a 3-2 count with the runner going, the man on the mound kicked and delivered a 92-mile-per-hour high heater that rung up cleanup hitter—and Louisville’s starting pitcher—Brendan McKay. Nick Sciortino, the man behind the plate, leapt up and fired down to second base. Johnny Adams slapped the tag down on Devin Mann with a body length to go before he reached the bag. Strike ’em out, throw ’em out. Threat over.

Yes, there was a storm on its way to Chestnut Hill on Friday evening, and its name was Jacob Stevens.

Riding high after a Beanpot victory over Northeastern on Wednesday, BC put up its best performance of the season thanks to its freshman stud and some timely hitting. With 102 pitches and a career-high seven innings of one-run ball—an unearned run, at that—Stevens lifted the Eagles (20-14, 6-11 Atlantic Coast) over No. 4 Louisville (30-8, 13-6) in a 6-1 final at Shea Field on Friday evening.

Typically, Stevens has stymied his opponents with an 88-to-90 mph fastball that can clip both corners at ease. But with a Louisville attack that ranks third in the nation (first in the ACC) with 320 runs scored entering today, relying on one key pitch can’t cut it. Throughout the week, Stevens worked with pitching coach Jim Foster to refine his sharp, biting slurve, complemented by a changeup that he has begun to experiment with while at BC.

“Kid can just pitch,” head coach Mike Gambino said following the game. “It’s fun to watch, isn’t it?”

It’s not without a little bit of struggle. Stevens, one of the nation’s leaders in WHIP, rarely pitches with runners on. The Cardinals, however, spread nine baserunners across Stevens’ seven innings. No matter. Stevens handled pitching from the stretch just as well, helped by some slick plays from his infielders. In fact, the only run of the game scored because of a questionable call at first, in which first-base umpire Olindo Mattia ruled Cronin was off the bag (even though The Heights’ own photographer’s shot says otherwis)e. And after the game, Stevens was asked what was working for him.

“Pretty much everything,” Stevens said of his stuff. “It was a nice warm day, had all my pitches going, so it was all good.”

The day truly belonged to the BC offense. The Eagles have struggled of late at the plate. BC has fallen into a tie for 219th in the country, with only 165 runs scored entering the day—almost half of what Louisville has done this year. Middle infielder and senior captain Joe Cronin has the highest batting average on the team in ACC play, a mere .250. And if you add up the RBI numbers of BC’s top three hitters—Jake Palomaki, Nick Sciortino, and Michael Strem—they equal the output of Louisville’s leadoff man, Corey Ray, alone.

From the get-go, BC was able to tee off against McKay, Louisville’s ace. The left-handed sophomore with a 2.15 ERA, 7-1 record, and impressive 73-to-22 strikeouts-to-walks ratio simply couldn’t hit his spots. He consistently missed on the outside corner with a four-seam fastball that typically hits 94, but on Friday only got to the 89-91 range. His erratic throws led to 35 pitches in the first inning, in which he allowed solid hits to Sciortino and Strem and walked Cronin and Adams to force in the game’s first run.

Given his inability to claim the outside corner, McKay was forced to move inside. Initially it worked, but when he consistently had to stay inside, the Eagles pounced. With the bases loaded and one out in the third, Adams poked a single to the outfield to score two. His team’s ability to get on by spraying the ball around the field or forcing McKay to throw a lot of pitches was his key to the game.

“That was huge for us, just working counts, stick to our approach, and trying to hit that fastball,” Adams said.

For Gambino, it was the at bat immediately after Adams’ that solidified BC’s place in this game. As Gian Martellini, a catcher by trade, danced on third, Logan Hoggarth lofted a fly ball to right field on a 2-2 pitch. Louisville’s Colin Lyman lined it up and fired home, yet the tag by Colby Fitch was too late.

“If we don’t score there, not getting that run would’ve changed things,” Gambino said.

With McKay done after five, the Eagles turned their attention to getting insurance off the Cardinals’ bullpen. That came in the sixth, when BC used a mix of good hitting and small ball to tack on two more off Sam Bordner. The first came on a double by Palomaki that scored Gabe Hernandez from first. The latter run came after Palomaki stole third and Strem placed a perfect safety squeeze to get him home.

With starters like Stevens and hitting from the entire lineup, Gambino’s crew has the perfect storm to go up against any team in the ACC, even No. 4 Louisville. What the Eagles now need to do is prove if they can use that consistency to propel them to a berth in the ACC Tournament for the first time since 2009. If they play like they did on Friday going forward, there’s reason to believe it’ll happen.

Featured Image by Alec Greaney / Heights Editor

April 22, 2016