Top Story, Spring

Birdball’s Magical Run Ends in Game Three of Super Regional

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Edgar Michelangeli stood and watched.

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning, Michelangeli swung hard at a Jesse Adams pitch. The ball sailed through the thick, Miami air, over the left-center field wall, just to the right of the scoreboard at Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park. As he jogged around the bases, Michelangeli, the No. 9 hitter for the University of Miami, kept his right hand raised in the air.

As he rounded third, the trouble started. Michelangeli high-stepped into home plate, beating his chest and jumping in the direction of Nick Sciortino. The catcher responded the same way many of us would: “F—k you.”

Benches cleared. Screams and shoves ensued. And tensions ran high throughout the stands. No ejections came from the scrum outside first base, but stern warnings to both benches and police intervention came immediately. Yet none of the extracurricular activity changed one simple fact: a game that was once squarely in reach in the late innings was now a blowout.

The dream run is over. But you can’t say Boston College baseball didn’t have fight in it until the bitter end.

With seven RBIs from Michelangeli on two home runs, the No. 2 Hurricanes (50-12) advanced to their 25th College World Series following a 9-4 victory over the No. 20 Eagles (34-22). The BC loss marks the conclusion of the University’s 2015-16 athletics season, as well as Birdball’s best season since 1967. Though his disappointment in the outcome was clear, head coach Mike Gambino was nothing but proud of how far his team had come.  

“I’m just thinking about how much I love these boys and how much they love each other,” Gambino said.

Both teams sent out freshman pitchers running on fumes. For the Eagles, it was Jacob Stevens, a future face of the program who hasn’t made it to the sixth inning of a ballgame since April 22 against Louisville. The Hurricanes put Andrew Cabezas on the bump—the young right-handed pitched 2 1/3 in relief on Saturday and wasn’t expected to last long.

After a laborious first, the big right-hander for BC got into trouble in the second. Johnny Ruiz scored following a double and RBI single by Jacob Heyward. Then, after a miscue by first baseman Mitch Bigras on a bunt, the Hurricanes had runners at second and third with only one out. That brought up Michelangeli, who smacked the first pitch he saw from Stevens—a fastball right down the middle—over the left-field wall for a three-run home run. Just like the previous two games, a big fly from a Miami player put BC in an early 4-0 hole.

Yet, just like in the previous games, BC knew exactly how to answer. Logan Hoggarth and Bigras got a rally started in the top half of the third with a single and walk, respectively. Later on, with the bases loaded and two away, Donovan Casey delivered again for the Eagles. His two-RBI single cut Miami’s lead in half with plenty of time remaining, knocking out Andrew Cabezas and convincing Gambino to give Stevens one more inning. After the game, Casey reflected that the inning represented the attitude of the Eagles all season.

We like to stay in any game no matter what,” Casey said. “Keep chipping away, and get base runners and clutch hits wherever we can.”

After trading runs in the bottom of the fourth and top of the fifth, Miami head coach brought in setup man Frankie Bartow for an extended relief appearance in a 5-3 game. The freshman put up a solid outing, giving up one run on four hits in 3 1/3 innings. Bartow, along with Miami reliever Thomas Woodrey, kept up their impressive performance despite bending heavily—the Eagles consistently got runners on, yet left them on the bags, nine in total.

But the doors were blown open in the eighth off the Michelangeli grand slam and the following scuffle. Though he was upset that the incident happened in the first place, Gambino stated that he liked how his team handled itself.

“We always talk about character, toughness, and class,” Gambino said. “I think our boys play hard, they play the right way, and they respect the game. You never want to see the benches clear but I am glad to see our boys had each other’s backs. It falls on those core values.”

BC’s rally in the eighth only yielded one additional run, the first career RBI for pinch hitter Chris Balogh. Once Miami turned to closer Bryan Garcia, BC had no more magic—a 1-2-3 ninth sent the raucous and fiery crowd at Mark Light into a frenzy.

While the Hurricanes celebrated the continuation of their season after the game, the Eagles looked fondly on all they had accomplished. In one way, their season helped to prove their self-worth to a University and athletic department that has not given this program proper funding based on their Atlantic Coast Conference competitors. The Eagles play at Shea Field, an overglorified lot with only a few metal benches that is more famous for its football season tailgates than for baseball games. Plans have swirled for a new stadium on the Brighton Campus, hopefully ready by 2018, and Gambino has more than proven himself capable and worthy of the best facilities possible.

BC’s run also gives hope for New England baseball schools, capping off an incredible year for the nation’s most underrepresented region. Bryant, Fairfield, Rhode Island, and Connecticut joined BC in the tournament—the first time five schools from New England have gotten to the NCAAs. While the others bowed out in the Regional round, the Eagles pushed on.

Most importantly, the season represents BC’s overarching message of never giving up. Inspired by Pete Frates, a former captain of the Eagles, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the program has brought awareness to the disease to the national forefront. While facing adversity of their own, the Eagles’ can’t-die attitude lifted them through the gauntlet of the ACC. For team captain Joe Cronin, who, as a freshman endured a 12-40 campaign hampered by an inability to practice anywhere, this season was beyond special.

“I am proud of my class,” Cronin said. “I am just sad that it’s over. Like Coach said, you leave it better for the next guy. I think we did that.”

A Super Regional run, a first-round pick, awareness for ALS, and capturing the heart of the entire nation. Hard to leave it any better than that.

Featured Image by Cai Thomas / Heights Staff

June 12, 2016