Spring, Baseball

Rapp, Eagles Roll Past Pittsburgh 8-0, End Eight-Game Skid

Wins haven’t come easily for Boston College baseball this season. Before Sunday, the Eagles were staring at a single-digit win total, an eight-game losing streak, and a handful of agonizingly close losses. After losing a pair of games on Saturday against Pittsburgh, one could’ve looked at the painful stretch BC found itself in and assumed that it’d continue to struggle on a brisk April afternoon.

It didn’t. Behind an excellent start from Brian Rapp and a reinvigorated offense, the Eagles coasted to an 8-0 shutout of the Panthers, avoiding a second-straight series sweep. After failing to crack the four-run mark in any of its eight previous games, BC (10-19, 5-10 Atlantic Coast) surpassed that total by the fourth inning and the outcome against Pittsburgh (17-11, 6-9) was never truly in doubt.

Rapp impressed on the mound, spinning six and two-thirds shutout innings and taking a no-hitter into the seventh. With two outs, he gave up a single to right-center that ended the bid and placed runners on the corners, prompting Mike Gambino to emerge from the dugout and make his way to the mound. After convincing his coach to let him stay for another batter, Rapp issued a walk, and that was it. Gambino turned to Thomas Lane, who finished off the inning by inducing a flyout to left.

“He was great today,” Gambino said, then pointed at catcher Gian Martellini as playing a big role in the performance. “Gian kept him locked in and going, so the combination was fun to watch today.”

A patient Pittsburgh lineup drew six walks against Rapp, but he had overpowering stuff at times, striking out eight—two punchouts shy of his season high. After giving up four earned runs in each of his last two outings against Clemson and Virginia Tech, the scoreless performance was nothing shy of impressive. The Panthers managed nothing more than weak contact against him until Ron Washington Jr. laced the decisive single.

He was backed up by more than enough run support, as the Eagles piled up six runs over the course of the third and fourth innings, chasing starter Blair Calvo and roughing up reliever Dan Hammer. Calvo worked quickly through the first two innings—he hit a batter in the first and needed a double play to escape the second, but was finding his spots—he registered a pair of strikeouts.

Then, the bottom of the lineup got things started. Joe Suozzi, who had just six cumulative at-bats on the season, doubled off the wall in left. After a groundout moved him up 90 feet, he raced home and scored on a Dante Baldelli fielder’s choice, beating the throw to the plate with ease. Baldelli worked his way around the bases and scored the game’s second run via a trifecta of moves. He stole second, moved to third on a passed ball, and slid safely into home after a wild pitch by Calvo. Hammer got Brian Dempsey to hit an inning-ending groundout a few batters later, but would quickly run into problems.

After Rapp worked around a hit batsmen to strike out the side in the fourth, he watched the lead grow in the bottom of the inning. BC methodically loaded the bases with two outs as Jake Alu singled, while Jake Palomaki and Jack Cunningham both booked free passes to first base. Martellini then laced a two-out, bases-clearing double off the wall in right field. Scott Braren followed with a single to left that brought him in, stretching the lead to a comfortable six.  

The Eagles added another insurance run in the seventh after chasing reliever T.J. Pagan. The junior had turned in two-plus innings of scoreless relief, a much-needed respite for the Panthers pitching staff, but he, too, hit a bump in his outing. He issued walks to Braren and Dempsey, as well as a hard-hit single up the middle from Christopher Galland, resulting in the end of his appearance. Reliever Peyton Reesman was greeted rudely—Alu lined the first pitch he saw into right field for a sacrifice fly—but settled down to strike out Suozzi and end the frame.

He didn’t fare as well in the next inning, though, as Palomaki teed off for a leadoff home run to left field—he threw a 1-0 pitch right over the heart of the plate and the senior shortstop deposited it over the left field fence. That’d prove to wrap up the scoring, as the Eagles polished off their largest win since March 10 against North Carolina State.

Lane’s relief appearance was significant for more than one reason. Not only did he strand all three runners upon entering, running his streak to 19 inherited runners that haven’t scored, but it was also a bounce-back performance from the right-hander. He was handed the loss in Saturday’s painful 13-inning affair against the Panthers, giving up two runs after getting a pair of quick strikeouts. On Sunday, he needed just three pitches to escape the jam, then worked quickly through the Pittsburgh lineup to close it out. He was backed up by a stout defense, the most prominent play a backhand stop from Alu at third followed by a nice pick out of the dirt by Cunningham at first for the second out of the ninth inning.

“With the slide we were on we started to play not to fail or make mistakes,” Gambino said. “Then you’re pretty much guaranteed to make them. Today, they just played baseball.”

Staving off a conference sweep at home with a convincing win in the finale was huge for the Eagles, as they entered Sunday’s game on an eight-game skid. BC found a variety of ways to lose during the streak that ran back to the Virginia Tech series over two weeks ago—they were blanked by Connecticut, routed by Clemson in a painful three-game set, and lost a pair of games in extras that spanned 24 combined innings. Everything clicked against the Panthers, however—the pitching was superb, the defense made every play, and the lineup got to every pitcher that Pittsburgh head coach Joe Jordano threw at it.

The Panthers had won five straight and were pushing the Eagles even deeper into the Atlantic Division cellar, but BC finally sorted it out and won its third game in nine tries at the new Brighton Field.

“Today was a fun team to watch,” Gambino added, striking an optimistic tone. “That’s more what we’re capable of and I really believe you’re going to see change in this team. After that loss last night, I started to feel it.”

Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

April 8, 2018