Spring, Top Story

Sciortino, Birdball Walk Off Against No. 4 Louisville

Clutch players shine in big moments. With runners on first and third in the bottom of the ninth inning, Nick Sciortino knew that he was in a big moment. He capitalized, blasting a base hit up the middle for the game-winning run. In a low-scoring game with few opportunities to score, Sciortino didn’t let his moment slip away.

For the second day in a row, Boston College baseball (21-14, 7-11 Atlantic Coast) shocked No. 4 Louisville (30-9, 13-7). This time, the final score was 2-1 after Sciortino’s walk-off single.

The first four innings were a scoreless pitcher’s duel between BC’s Justin Dunn and Louisville’s Drew Harrington. Dunn, a former relief pitcher, started to get tired and allowed Danny Rosenbaum to crush a home run over the left-field wall in the fifth inning. The fastball was a bit more elevated than Dunn probably would have liked, and Rosenbaum made him pay.

“We’re still stretching him out a little bit,” head coach Mike Gambino said about Dunn after the game. “You could see him starting to tire in that last inning. Fastball started coming up.”

The next crucial moment of the game came in the top of the seventh inning. BC’s offense was struggling mightily and surrendering an insurance run would have been costly. Reliever Brian Rapp allowed Will Smith to smash a ground ball right at third baseman Gabe Hernandez to start the inning, who made two phenomenal diving plays earlier in the game. But on this one, Hernandez was a bit off-balance, falling backwards and attempting to snare a scorcher that took a tough hop.

Smith took advantage of this opportunity to get on base, stealing second base to put a potential insurance run in scoring position for the Cardinals. After Rosenbaum flew out to right field, Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell elected to send Colby Fitch to the plate as a pinch hitter. During the at bat, Smith advanced to third because of a passed ball. Fitch ended up drawing a walk, but Rapp struck out Logan Taylor with a tough breaking ball on the outside corner. Taylor was visibly frustrated with the call, sending a glare toward home-plate umpire Olindo Mattia before sauntering back to the dugout.

With runners on the corners and two outs, Gambino sent right-handed relief pitcher John Nicklas to the mound. Nicklas was very careful with dangerous leadoff hitter Corey Ray, making sure that he did not give him anything good to hit. He walked Ray on five pitches, opting to attack right-handed batter Drew Ellis instead. After getting behind on the count 2-0, Nicklas knew that he had to give Ellis something to hit because the bases were loaded. Ellis was sitting on the fastball and drove it to deep left field. A grand slam would have all but ended the Eagles’ chances, but the ball did not carry far enough. Left fielder Dominic Hardaway tracked it down to record the final out and end the rally.

Through six innings, the Eagles had managed a measly three hits off Harrington. Logan Hoggarth began the seventh inning with a base hit that just got past the shortstop. Devin Hairston made a Derek Jeter-esque play earlier on a similar ground ball, but this one snuck by him as he attempted to make the backhand play. The next batter, Hernandez, laid down a sacrifice bunt to put the game-tying run in scoring position. Gambino sent pinch hitter Stephen Sauter to the plate, and his ground ball to the shortstop allowed Hoggarth to make it to third base. Hoggarth’s speed and instincts were key on this play, as many baserunners would have safely stayed at second base. His efforts were rewarded, as leadoff hitter Jake Palomaki laced the payoff pitch into left-center to tie the game at one. That full-count pitch, which was Harrington’s 101st, ended his outing.

Though Eagles had tied the game, they were hungry for more. Jake Sparger entered the game with a fresh arm, so continuing the two-out rally was going to be difficult. When Palomaki attempted to steal second base, Smith threw the ball past the second baseman and into center field. Palomaki advanced to third on the play and stood 90 feet away from giving BC the lead. Sciortino, no stranger to big moments in this game, drew a walk on five pitches. Michael Strem, the next batter, hit a deep fly ball to left-center, but Taylor was able to track it down. Strem got just a bit under the ball, barely missing a potential home run pitch.

In the top of the eighth inning, Louisville responded to BC’s rally by putting together a similar one. In fact, a sacrifice bunt and a ground ball to shortstop which moved the runner to third base occurred once again. Gambino decided to start the inning with left-handed relief pitcher Dan Metzdorf because he liked the matchup against left-handed hitter Brendan McKay. He worked a full-count walk, but the fourth ball was close to the strike zone, sending the BC crowd into an angry frenzy. With a right-handed hitter coming to the plate, Gambino replaced Metzdorf with right-handed pitcher Bobby Skogsbergh, who recorded the final six outs of the game. After the sacrifice bunt and ground ball out, Smith stepped up to the plate with a runner on third and two outs. Smith had been making solid contact all game, as he had one single and two deep flyouts. This time, however, he hit a slow ground ball to shortstop. Johnny Adams charged the ball, kept his glove down, and fired a throw to first base that barely beat Smith.

Sparger got the best of the Eagles in the eighth inning, quickly racking up two strikeouts and a foul out to the third baseman. In the ninth inning, Louisville threatened to score the team’s second run again by putting another runner in scoring position. Rosenbaum started it off with a base hit to right field. Ryan Summers was asked to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but after failing twice, he struck out swinging. Taylor followed with a sacrifice bunt that moved Rosenbaum to second base. Leadoff hitter Ray stepped up to the plate, but Skogsbergh blew a fastball right by him on the 1-2 pitch.

McDonnell sent right-handed reliever Zack Burdi to the mound for the ninth inning. Gambino countered by sending Scott Braren to the plate as a pinch hitter. Gambino’s strategic decision paid off, as Braren—who came through in the clutch for BC twice against defending national champion Virginia—smashed a ball that diving third baseman Blake Tiberi couldn’t glove. Another pinch hitter, Anthony Maselli, was sent to the plate, but Burdi quieted the crowd a bit by recording a three-pitch strikeout. Palomaki was the next batter, and he ripped another huge base hit in between the first and second basemen. With runners on first and third, Sciortino attempted a safety squeeze on the first pitch, but he could not make contact with the ball. Gambino decided to call off the play and let Sciortino hit. He certainly delivered. The base hit up the middle emptied the dugout, as his teammates met Sciortino at first base to celebrate.

“He always seems to get the big hit, you know,” Gambino reflected. “Scorsy is the guy you want in that big spot. We were looking at a safety squeeze on that first one, and they kinda crashed it so hard I said ‘Alright, go get ’em Scorsy.’”

Sciortino remained humble and grateful after the game, giving credit to his teammates for the win.

“It feels nice to get that hit, but props to the pitching staff for keeping us in that game,” he said.

BC baseball has gone through its fair share of ups and downs this season. After taking two games from Virginia, the Eagles were swept by Notre Dame. Now, BC has taken two games from one of the nation’s best teams and has a chance for a sweep on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles can be consistent and finish strong down the stretch in a very difficult conference to try to earn their first postseason berth since 2009.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

April 24, 2016