Top Story, Spring

Led by Johnny Adams, Birdball Advances to First Super Regional

Johnny Adams is known for being a great fielding shortstop. That’s how he earned the starting job as a freshman two and a half years ago among a young class of high school shortstops, who are now scattered across the field for Boston College. No one else has started even a single game at the position besides him since 2014—Adams’ quick hands, reliable glove, and strong arm have made him the only player on head coach Mike Gambino’s roster to monopolize a position.


At times, that came at the expense of BC’s lineup.


His freshman year, Adams hit just .223, but that was the general status quo of a team still far out-matched. He flirted with the Mendoza line for much of 2015 before bringing his average up to rest at .240 by the end of the year. But for the first couple months of this season, he was back to around .200. The real bottom, after accumulating a decent sample size for an average in the first couple weeks, came on April 9, after a third straight hitless game against Virginia dropped him down to .191—a tough figure to see at any level of baseball.


But Gambino kept the trust in his guy. Gradually, it began to pay off. One week later, he’d raised his average 25 points to .216. A week after that, 26 points to .244. A week after that, he broke .250.


By the end of the regular season, Adams had worked his way up to .274. In the first three games of the postseason (ACC and NCAA play), he went 5-for-12, starting a rally against Utah with a double that led to a come-from-behind win. And in the Oxford Regional Championship on Sunday, the Walpole, Mass. native exploded, going 4-for-4 with three doubles, three RBIs, and two runs, in the process raising his average over 100 points from where it was two months ago. Adams’ day alone was almost enough for BC pitching, which held a strong Tulane offense to just seven hits and three runs in a 6-3 win.


A win, it so happens, that will be taking BC baseball to a Super Regional series—the first in program history.


“It’s amazing,” catcher Nick Sciortino said after the game. “Thirty-four of us started off in the fall, trusting it and believing in it … It’s been a ride, it’s been a great time.”


Before Adams caught fire, BC’s offense began the same way it did against Utah—taking advantage of mistakes.


After going down in order in the first, BC (34-20) ignited in the second. Donovan Casey led off the inning, hitting a grounder to Tulane (41-21) shortstop Stephen Alemais. Casey’s strong hustle out of the box, however, forced Alemais to rush his throw, forcing first baseman Hunter Williams out of his shoes and off the bag to snag the ball.


Joe Cronin came up next and blasted a double down the line. After Scott Braren struck out, Adams drove the first two men home on his first double, a line drive into left-center. Mitch Bigras followed suit soon after, hooking a base hit to right to make it a 3-0 game.


The Eagles continued to batter away at Tulane’s pitching, chasing starter J.P. France after just three innings, though just two of the five runs he allowed on the night were earned. They scored one run each in the third, fourth, and fifth, but the pen locked down after that, keeping a power-hitting offense within striking range.


Jacob Stevens, who hadn’t reached the fifth inning of a game since beating Louisville in a seven-inning effort on April 22, still didn’t have his best command. He walked two and hit three batters, but allowed just four hits and two runs over a five-inning span.


He came up especially big against the final batter he faced in the fifth. With one down and runners on first and second, Stevens recovered from hitting the previous man to produce a groundout to short, which Adams and Palomaki turned into a smooth double play. But that wasn’t nearly their biggest turn of the day.


Freshman John Witkowski entered in relief and pitched a perfect sixth and seventh, but he finally began to unwind in the eighth, allowing a double to the second batter he faced. He got the next man to hit the ball on the ground up the middle to a ranging Adams, but the reliable shortstop couldn’t make an acrobatic, spinning play, sailing the throw and allowing a run to score, cutting BC’s lead to three.


Bobby Skogsbergh then entered and allowed a hit and a walk, loading the bases with one down. But the baseball gods hung by BC, as Jake Willsey, a sophomore hailing from none other than Chestnut Hill, Mass., bounced a ball up the middle to Adams. Like his day at the plate, Adams’ shovel toss to Jake Palomaki at second was perfect, and Palomaki fired an equally stellar throw to first to escape the jam. Skogsbergh and Jesse Adams combined to strike out the final three Tulane hitters in the ninth to clinch the win.


With a win in each game this weekend—a key for BC to succeed, since the team does not have many strong options for a fourth starter—the Eagles advance to play Miami (FL), the winner of the Coral Gables Regional, in a best-of-three series at Mark Light Stadium at Alex Rodriguez Field. By advancing, BC has already out-survived three of the other nine ACC schools in the tournament: Virginia, Wake Forest, and Duke. Florida State and Louisville have also clinched berths to the Super Regionals.



The Eagles have also continued their run of big celebrations, building off the momentum of their selection show cele to throw up their gloves, grab the Pete Frates ‘Frate Train’ flag, and mob Jesse Adams in front of the mound in the ninth. Johnny Adams, Cronin, and Sciortino, the three players who appeared in the press conference after the game, each tried and often failed to contain wide smiles throughout, the smiles of guys who, in the words of Sciortino, “no one believed in” last fall.


All aboard.

Featured Image by Joshua McCoy / BC Athletics

June 6, 2016