Spring, Baseball

Eagles Drop Two More in Doubleheader Against Pittsburgh

Cole MacLaren got the pitch that Pittsburgh was looking for all day: one that would clinch its second-straight ACC series victory over Boston College baseball. He cracked a Thomas Lane offering to left field, thinking double all the way and arriving there safely as his teammate, Caleb Parry, crossed home. It gave the Panthers (17-10, 6-8 Atlantic Coast) a 5-4 lead, one that they would not relinquish in a 6-4 victory that wrapped up Saturday’s doubleheader. Earlier in the day, a five-run fifth inning propelled Pittsburgh to a 9-4 Game One victory over BC (9-19, 4-10).

Early on, Jacob Stevens was a spark in the series opener. The junior has been called upon to eat innings for the Eagles since he arrived on campus as a freshman, regardless of the weather conditions. In the top of the first inning, he got all three Pittsburgh batters swinging. After BC let a leadoff double by Chris Galland go by the boards, Stevens marched back to the mound and retired the side in order, all on fly outs.

The BC bats came out of the dugout in the bottom of the second ready to score some runs for their starter. After working a 2-1 count, Scott Braren slapped a leadoff single up the middle. The following batter, second baseman Brian Dempsey, snuck a grounder over second base for another single. The Eagles had runners on first and second with no outs. These runners would remain at their respective bases with two down, unable to advance because of a Jake Alu foul out and a Jake Goodreau strikeout. Joe Suozzi followed with another single up the middle, giving the Eagles a quick 1-0 advantage.

Stevens, pitching with a lead for the first time, walked Nico Popa to start the third inning. The starter’s first lapse of the game was an encapsulation of the command struggles he would face the rest of the game. Soon, Popa advanced to second on a passed ball. With no outs, Connor Perry had a job to do: advance his runner to third. Perry did just this by driving a 1-2 pitch to right field. Pittsburgh’s small ball worked to perfection when catcher Cole MacLaren grounded out to second, scoring Popa and tying the game at one.

The Eagles responded by playing some small ball of their own. Three-hitter Jack Cunningham forced an error by hitting a slow roller to third base, and Dante Baldelli got pegged by the next pitch. They raced to scoring position on a wild pitch, which ended up being insignificant because Braren was able to draw a walk, getting on base for a second-straight time, loading the bases with one out.

On cold days like Saturday, pitchers often reap an advantage on hitters if they pitch inside. If the hitter makes contact, his hands will be left stinging, and the ball does not fly as far as it does on warm, summer afternoons. Pittsburgh starter Matt Pidich’s fearlessness to pitch inside hurt him more than it hurt BC. For the second time in the inning, he plunked a BC hitter. This time, with the bases loaded, it allowed a run to score. Dempsey earned an RBI the hard way, and the Eagles took a 2-1 lead.

After Pidich escaped the bases-loaded jam with a 4-6-3 double play, Pittsburgh stole the show. In the top of the fourth, back-to-back walks left Stevens with runners on for the second-consecutive inning. Similar to the third inning, Stevens was unable to escape unscathed. Maldonado sacrifice bunted down the first base line to advance the runners to second and third. Stevens, clearly in a battle with his command at this point, threw a wild pitch to Nick Banman, scoring the runner from third and equalizing the score at two.

It was anyone’s game heading into the fifth. Stevens, with his pitch count into the 70s and command wavering, would need an extreme amount of toughness to get through the inning. The bottom of the Panthers’ order had other ideas. On a 3-2 count, Stevens hit Popa and walked the ensuing hitter. MacLaren—sticking to his team’s strategy—bunted the runners into scoring position. After Pittsburgh walked to load the bases, Liam Sabino smacked a sacrifice fly to right field, giving the Panthers a 3-2 lead. Stevens was unable to get out of the inning, and with little left in the tank, he issued his sixth free pass of the day to David Yanni. This prompted BC head coach Mike Gambino to make a switch on the mound.

“The way he was throwing the ball [early], I was like, ‘man, he’s going to go nine right now,’” Gambino said about Stevens’ performance. “He just lost the zone … he’s shown so many times that he can not have his stuff, not feel great and [still] work through it. And he just didn’t today.”

Right-handed reliever Sean Hughes was called upon to escape the jam. Hughes, like Stevens, could not find the strike zone. He hopped four outside fastballs to the only batter he faced, walking home another run. Gambino, sensing that Hughes couldn’t find his command in the blustery conditions, quickly yanked the junior for lefty Zach Stromberg, who—right on cue—walked the first batter he faced in five pitches. That gave Pittsburgh three-straight walks, all off of different pitchers.

With an opportunity to blow the game wide open, Ron Washington Jr. laced a single up the middle, scoring Yanni and a racing Maldonado home. Stromberg finally got the strikeout he was looking for when he aced Popa in three pitches, but the damage was already done. Pittsburgh pushed across five runs in the top of the fifth, gaining a 7-2 lead on the Eagles.

Stromberg ultimately fought through two and two-thirds innings, but not before he gave up two more runs in the eighth. The Eagles were able to match that in the bottom half of the inning, when Cunningham hit a line-drive single to center field that scored two runs. That would be all for the Eagles, who dropped the first leg of the doubleheader, 9-4.

They flipped the momentum back in their favor early on in Game Two, though. Palomaki, who entered the day with the second-highest batting average in the ACC (.373), worked a leadoff walk. Baldelli followed by hitting a grounder to third. Palomaki, utilizing a good jump, beat the throw to second base. The senior’s speed forced Panthers starter Chris Gomez to pay attention to him, and he consequently balked. Palomaki was able to sprint home after Cunningham grounded out to shortstop, giving BC the lead for the first time since the early innings of Game One.

Dan Metzdorf, seeking his first win of the season, responded to the early BC surge by letting up one hit while striking out five in the first three innings. The first time through the order, the southpaw relied on deception and strike throwing to mow down the Panthers.

Facing the middle of the order in the top of the fourth proved to be much more difficult for Metzdorf. To start the inning, he hit Yanni with an inside fastball. The next hitter, Maldonado, made the most of a hitter’s count by roping a double down the left field line. Since there were two men in scoring position and no outs, Metzdorf found himself in a difficult position for the first time in the game. He stalled the runners by fielding a bunt from Banman, looking the runners back and firing it to first for out one. The first pitch to the next hitter hopped away from Gian Martellini, but a quick recovery allowed him to shuffle the ball to Metzdorf, who slapped a tag on Yanni to prevent the run. A seeing eye single that third baseman Alu was unable to corral pushed the first run of the game across, knotting it all up at one.

In the bottom of the fourth, BC picked its pitcher up. After Galland got pegged to lead off the inning, Dempsey put together a great piece of hitting by blooping an opposite-field single. This sequence of events forced Gomez out of the game. Dempsey swiped second on R.J. Fruere’s first pitch, giving the Eagles a prime scoring opportunity. Fruere had other plans—two strikeouts and a foul out allowed him to clean up Gomez’s mess, erupting Pitt’s dugout and silencing the BC crowd.

Metzdorf and Freure traded zeroes in the middle innings, forcing the game to remain in a 1-1 stalemate. From the fifth through seventh innings, neither team mustered a hit. In the top of the eighth, Pittsburgh had runners on first and second with two outs, after recording a single and a walk. A warning track fly out by Maldonado ended the threat. Metzdorf ended his day with an impressive line of eight innings of one-run ball, fanning eight in the process while only allowing four hits.

In the bottom of the eighth, Martellini pulled a single through the left side, and advanced to scoring position on Braren’s sacrifice bunt. After Galland walked, Pittsburgh head coach Joe Jordano turned the ball over to Yaya Chentouf. He struck out Dempsey in three pitches. The next batter, Alu, drove Yaya Chentouf’s offering down the left field line, and it bounced all the way to the wall, scoring runners from first and second to put the Eagles ahead, 3-1.

Joey Walsh came into a save situation in the ninth. With one out, Washington hit a line drive at Suozzi, and he misplayed it into a triple. The next pitch, Popa hit a ground ball towards Alu, who allowed him to reach, thanks to an erratic one-hop throw. After a failed squeeze attempt, Pittsburgh eventually tied the game on RBI singles by Parry and Alex Amos.

“We’ve gotten into a little bit of a skid because, as a team, we’ve gotten to a spot where we’re trying not to make a mistake, on the mound and on the field, and when you do that you pretty much guarantee you are going to make a mistake,” Gambino said about his team’s late-game defensive miscues.

BC’s next chance to win the game didn’t arrive until the bottom of the 11th. Alu, on second base with one out, was sent home after a Palomaki single to Maldonado. Gambino underestimated Maldonado—a redshirt senior that has committed three errors in his entire college career—who fired a strike, knocking Alu down at the plate. Alu laid on the plate and stared at the umpire in disbelief, knowing that his team came up just short once again.

With two outs in the top of the 12th, Yanni stepped up to the plate hungry to send Pittsburgh back to the team hotel with a doubleheader sweep over BC. He unloaded on the first pitch he saw against Joey Walsh—a deep opposite field fly that soared through the night sky and banged off the scoreboard in right field. He ran around the bases beating his chest in celebration, and after he crossed home plate and returned to the dugout, his teammates adorned him with a gold “home run helmet,” a new Pittsburgh tradition, as they mobbed him outside of the dugout.

Chentrouf, in his fourth inning of work, now had a new goal in sight: to collect a save. With no outs and an 0-1 count, Martellini crushed a fastball into the right-center gap, beating the cutoff throw to third with a headfirst slide. Galland sent him home, courtesy of a fielder’s choice, tying the game at four. The freshman then stole second to get into scoring position with one out. BC blew another opportunity when, on a wild pitch, Galland tried to score from second. He found himself in a rundown, and was tagged out by Sabino. If he were to have stayed at third base with one out, there would have been plenty of ways for him to score. But Galland getting caught on the basepath virtually ended BC’s threat.

Lane entered the game in the 13th with a bang, striking out the first two people that he faced. With two outs, trouble ensued for the Eagles. Lane walked Perry on a 3-2 count, who would come around to score when MacLaren doubled to left. Unfortunately for Lane, that wasn’t the worst of it. Amos proceeded to hit a base knock to centerfield, scoring MacLaren and extending Pitt’s lead to 6-4. Palomaki followed all of this up with a sprawling web gem on a line drive in the hole, but the damage was already done.

The Eagles went down in order in the bottom of the 13th, extending their losing streak to eight games. It has been a dreadful stretch for BC—a team that couldn’t capitalize when it mattered most on Saturday. Now 10 games below .500, the Eagles are watching their season slip away by the inning.

Featured Image by Lucas Bassoli / Heights Staff

April 7, 2018