Baseball, Spring

Lineup, Bullpen Blunders Pave the Way for Demon Deacon Sweep

Entering this weekend’s three-game series against Wake Forest, Boston College baseball had won three games in a row—not by the skin of its teeth, but in dominant fashion. Snapping their season-worst, eight-game losing streak, the Eagles poured on eight or more runs in all three of the aforementioned contests, conceding just seven during the four-day span. The pitching carried over to the weekend—the bats, on the other hand, did not. Over the course of the three-game set, BC mustered just nine hits and, more importantly, one run.

Saturday’s series finale was simply the icing on the cake. Following the Harrington Athletics Village dedication ceremony, Brian Rapp fanned six batters and gave up just one earned run in six innings of work. The bullpen—consisting of four arms—had its first real hiccup of the series toward the end of the game, but those guys weren’t the problem. The Eagles didn’t record a single hit for the first four innings of play, at which point the Demon Deacons were already up two. Once BC finally reached base, it had a hard time piecing together any sort of rally, logging one multi-hit frame all day. The Eagles’ pitching staff could only keep the game competitive for so long—in the seventh and eighth innings, Wake Forest tacked on four runs, effectively sealing a 6-1 victory and the Demon Deacons’ first ACC road sweep since 2014.

Right from the get-go, it was apparent that Rapp—who has shaved 1.07 points off his ERA this season—had his stuff. The senior struck out the side with just 11 pitches. Wake Forest’s (17-20, 10-8 Atlantic Coast) Colin Peluse didn’t have quite the same luck. After retiring the first two Eagles batters, the sophomore walked Jack Cunningham, prolonging the opening frame. Capitalizing on a dropped foul ball, Cunningham sprinted to second, moving into scoring position. Just like his teammate, Gian Martellini also worked a full count and booked a free trip to first base. But, with two men on, Jake Goodreau went down swinging, extinguishing BC’s (12-22, 5-13) early scoring threat.

Rapp needed a mere two pitches to record the first out of the second inning. After that, though, the Mendham, N.J. native ran into some trouble. Shane Muntz kicked things off by drawing Wake Forest’s first walk of the game—it wouldn’t be the Demon Deacons’ last either. The ensuing batter, Michael Ludowig, reached on a fielder’s choice as Muntz was forced out on his way to second. With two outs, the freshman swiped second, providing Chris Lanzilli the perfect opportunity to drive in the first run of the game. He did just that—Lanzilli ripped a double down the left field line, easily scoring Ludowig. Right on cue, Rapp settled down and tallied his fourth punchout of the contest to wrap up the inning.

The next two frames mirrored that of a pitcher’s duel. Rapp and Peluse allowed a total of two hits, moving the game along with great command of their respective pitches. It wasn’t until the fifth inning that Wake Forest got back on the board. Following a Lanzilli groundout, Logan Harvey singled to right field. Next up, D.J. Poteet laid down a sacrifice bunt and reached base, courtesy of a Rapp fielding error. The senior pitcher was on the verge of slipping—literally.

One batter later, Rapp faced Patrick Frick. He wound up and began to deliver a pitch to the plate, but before he could even release the ball, he lost his footing on the mound and fell to the ground. After discussion, the umpires ruled the embarrassing gaffe as a balk, and the runners advanced. Frick ended up squeezing, giving Harvey just enough time to bee-line to home plate and extend the Demon Deacons’ lead to two.

Starting with Dante Baldelli, BC looked poised to retaliate in the back half of the frame. Down 0-2 in the count, the freshman center fielder shot a single right up the middle, recording BC’s first hit of the game. Although Brian Dempsey flied out to right field, Jake Alu was quick to log a single of his own. A Joe Suozzi groundout pushed the runners over, leaving Jake Palomaki the honors the clear the bases and knot the game up at two. Yet even the team’s leading hitter couldn’t right the ship.

After 24-straight scoreless innings, the Eagles finally plated a run in sixth. It all started with Chris Galland, who drew a four-pitch, leadoff walk. Almost expectedly, the speedy freshman stole second with relative ease. Now with a runner in scoring position, Jack Cunningham roped a single to right field, sending Galland all the way home. Because of a fielding error, Cunningham also advanced to second on the play—that’s as far as he’d get though. Peluse retired three of the next four batters to close out the inning.

In a one-run game, BC head coach Mike Gambino was confronted with a difficult decision. Rapp was wheeling and dealing, but, after the senior’s 127-pitch outing against Pittsburgh last week, the eighth-year coach was hesitant to let him go any deeper.

“He wanted one more inning—he was at 96 [pitches] I think—and I just wasn’t going to let him go,” Gambino said. “He was awesome, but there was no talking me into another inning with short rest and coming off more pitches than I was comfortable with last week.”

So Joey Walsh came in, immediately gave up a single to Lanzilli, and issued a walk to Harvey. The back half of the Demon Deacons’ lineup was back at it again. Poteet proceeded to lay down a sacrifice bunt, moving the runners to second and third. Gambino pulled the trigger and called for Thomas Lane to clean up Walsh’s mess. Yet all it took was a Frick fly ball to score Lanzilli.

Lane lasted a few more batters in the eighth frame, but his three hits allowed were far too many for Gambino’s liking. Sean Hughes and Zach Stromberg—two of BC’s best relievers—finished off the inning, but hardly escaped the jam. When all was said and done, Wake Forest tacked on three runs, in large part thanks to a pair of Eagles walks, as well as a wild pitch.

Wake Forest capped off the dominant series with a pair of no-hit innings, dropping BC to a meager 12-22 on the year. Oddly enough, the Eagles have been here before—in fact, just last year, they started 9-22 and then rattled off 16 wins in their final 22 games to make the ACC Tournament for the second-consecutive year.

“We know what we have to do,” Gambino said. “We’re really probably in a better spot than we were last year. I just say to the boys right now, they’re unsure, I think, how good they can be, as group—and that’s my fault.”

BC has the lineup to compete with the best of the ACC, and at times—like this weekend—the pitching staff looks as good as any in the conference. The problem is, the Eagles are nowhere near consistent.  

“This is a club that was second in the conference in hitting like four weeks ago,” Gambino said. “Our lineup has shown that it can be good and dangerous and score a bunch of runs, and our arms have shown that they can be really good and hold good lineups at bay. The crazy thing with this year is we haven’t done it together.”

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor

April 14, 2018