Fernandes’ Return Highlights Birdball’s Senior Day Win

It was cold—the temperature hovered around the low 60s and dipped as the game went on. It was long—the final out was recorded nearly four hours after first pitch at 1 p.m. It was ugly—there were enough walks, stolen bases, and hit batsmen for an entire season.

Sure, it was all of these things, but it was also a win.

Despite giving up three runs early in the first inning, Boston College baseball (29-18, 11-14 Atlantic Coast) settled down with improved pitching and smart hitting to beat Niagara University (16-31-1, 11-10 Metro Atlantic Athletic) by a score of 9-3.

It was Senior Day on the Heights on Sunday afternoon, and a few upperclassmen took advantage of the spotlight that came with their last weekend home game at Shea Field. Outfielder Logan Hoggarth had two singles and knocked in three runs from the seventh spot in the batting order. Though he was held hitless, Joe Cronin walked twice and scored two of BC’s nine runs.

And one senior got his first chance to play in more than a year.

Right-handed pitcher Luke Fernandes had been out of the lineup since April 25, 2015 while he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. On Sunday, head coach Mike Gambino called on Fernandes for the first time this season to finish the job in the ninth inning.

“I was pretty nervous at first,” Fernandes said. “I thought I was gonna balk with a man on. But it was awesome to get back out there.”

Though the game was well over the three-hour mark as the ninth inning begun, the BC dugout came alive as Fernandes trotted out from the bullpen. It drummed along with Five Finger Death Punch’s “Bad Company” while he threw warm-up pitches.

And it became raucous when Fernandes struck out Julian Gallup looking in his first at bat of the season.

“The guys in the dugout showed you everything you needed to know about him,” Gambino said after the win. “All he ever does is care about how the team is doing and how his teammates are.”

A scary moment occurred early in the game when Brian Rapp, BC’s starter, hit designated hitter Greg Rodgers in the face with a fastball. Rodgers remained on the ground for a number of minutes before finally coming to his feet and walking off on his own power. While never losing consciousness and remaining alert, Rodgers looked disoriented while medical personnel attended to him away from the field. He was eventually transported from Shea Field by ambulance.

On a day when Rapp struggled to command his pitches early in the game, Gambino’s bullpen needed to come in and pitch quality innings—lots of ’em. And that’s just what it did.

Though the chilly breeze made locating pitches a bit more difficult than usual, the Eagles got it done. Zach Stromberg, John Nicklas, John Witkowski, Donovan Casey, and Fernandes combined to toss six scoreless innings of two-hit ball with five strikeouts.

The Eagles were especially active on the basepaths, making things happen by manufacturing runs rather than hitting with power. Jake Palomaki, Michael Strem, and Cronin combined for seven stolen bases against catcher Joel Brophy, who looked overmatched in trying to throw the runners out.

“We know our offense is not gonna be sitting back and waiting for a 3-1 home run,” Gambino said. “We get guys on, move them around, get quality at-bats, and grind them out.”

With the win, the Eagles swept the weekend against Niagara, though the games had little bearing on BC’s standing in the ACC Tournament. The Eagles have one more nonconference game against Maine at home on Tuesday before heading down to Atlanta for their final series of the season at Georgia Tech.

A strong weekend against the Yellow Jackets would put the Eagles in the ACC Tournament, which all but guarantees them a shot at the NCAA Tournament. It’s been a long time coming, but Gambino can finally see his squad building toward Omaha.

“This is what you work for,” Gambino said. “First thing we need to do is get into the postseason, and then you see what happens after that.”

It’ll take wins to get to Omaha. They don’t have to be pretty or perfect—they just have to be wins.

BC got one on Sunday, and it hopes to get a couple more as the season wraps up.  

Featured Image by Michael Sullivan / Heights Editor

May 15, 2016

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