Baseball, Sports, Spring

Bullpen Struggles Cost Eagles Two Games in Weekend Series at Bethune-Cookman

After dropping the first two games of a weekend series with Bethune-Cookman as the result of issues in the back end of its pitching staff, Boston College baseball redeemed itself in the weekend finale, salvaging a win on the strength of an offensive outburst.

The Eagles rolled to a 14-5 victory over the host Wildcats, redeeming themselves after dropping consecutive decisions to start the weekend. The three-game series was marked by strong starting pitching and a dangerous lineup, with BC getting contributions from practically everyone over the weekend.

In the Sunday finale, head coach Mike Gambino gave the ball to Joe Mancini for his first career start, and he was rewarded with five innings of one-run ball from the freshman. Mancini had more than enough run support, with the Eagles striking for four runs in both the second and third innings and only adding to it from there.

Dante Baldelli went 2-for-5 with five RBIs out of the nine hole, homering and adding a triple for an excellent day at the plate. All but one player on the roster registered a hit on a 16-hit day for BC, while the bottom of the lineup was particularly impressive. Cody Morrisette went 3-for-5 with a home run and Joe Suozzi added a 2-for-5 day, with both players scoring three times as well.

The Eagles chased Bethune-Cookman starter Carlos Lequerica in the second inning, and he was far from the first Wildcats pitcher to exit quickly. Lequerica was charged with four earned runs, while reliever Alec Mendez entered and allowed four—only two earned—as his replacement. Bethune-Cookman never really found a pitcher to string together several consistent innings, with each of the next three arms out of the bullpen allowing a run or more.

BC, meanwhile, used two innings from Travis Lane—he gave up a lone run—to get to the later innings. There, Michael Marzonie allowed a pair of runs in the eighth and Jack Nelson closed out the convincing win by allowing a lone run in the ninth.

It was a dominant effort from the Eagles in basically every facet of the game. They swiped seven bases, one shy of a season high, and finished the weekend with 14 stolen bases. Sal Frelick and Chris Galland both stole two in the series finale, running their totals to 10 and 6, respectively—setting the stage for an exciting race for the team lead.

On Saturday night, Eagles starter Mason Pelio scattered five hits and two earned runs over four innings of work, John Witkowski allowed two runs over four innings with seven strikeouts, and BC used a four-run fourth inning to take a comfortable 7-4 lead into the ninth inning. Gambino turned to reliable reliever Thomas Lane to close it out—and things went catastrophically wrong. Lane walked the first three batters he faced and departed, with replacements Sean Hughes and Marzonie not faring much better.

Hughes walked in a run, then allowed a game-tying two-run single to Danny Rodriguez. With nobody out and the game-winning run in scoring position, Gambino went with Marzonie, a redshirt sophomore making his first appearance of the year. It lasted all of two pitches, with Brandon Wilkes walking off an 8-7 win by lacing a double to center field.

It was a squandered victory for the Eagles, who led Bethune-Cookman by a five runs entering the eighth inning. Wilkes and the Wildcats struck first—he doubled in a run in the first inning—but BC would score five unanswered runs to take a comfortable lead. The scoring came from all different spots in the lineup, with five players recording multi-hit games. Frelick knocked in a run with a double in the third, then the Eagles scored four in the fourth. Morissette scored on a throwing error, Baldelli had an RBI single, and Brian Dempsey capped the frame with a two-run single. Dempsey would be back just two innings later, answering a Bethune-Cookman run with a two-run home run.

That was it for BC’s scoring, though, as it failed to add to its lead in the next three innings. Wildcats reliever Seth Lovell, who entered at the start of the fifth, shook off the Dempsey blast to face the minimum over the next three innings. He retired the side in order in the ninth, setting up his teammates’ heroics in the bottom of the frame.

The first game of the series was once again defined by bullpen struggles. BC starter Matt Gill pitched into the sixth after a seven-inning game against Jackson State, and the Eagles erased deficits of 2-0 and 4-2, creating a tie game going into the home half of the eighth. Then, it all fell apart. Reliever Joey Walsh needed 41 pitches to get through the inning, allowing four earned runs while walking three as Bethune-Cookman came away with an 8-4 win.

After BC first baseman Jack Cunningham hit his first career home run in the top of the eighth to tie it up at four runs apiece, Walsh trotted out and struck out the first batter he faced before giving up a triple to Over Torres. An intentional walk and walk later, Walsh induced a ground ball to second base, and Morrissette made an impressive play to scoop it up and throw the go-ahead run out at home. In the end, it wouldn’t matter, as Joseph Fernando laced a two-out, two-run single into left field, and Isaak Gutierrez followed with a two-run double down the right field line.

Walsh’s outing squandered what had been a resilient performance from the Eagles. Gill set down the side in order in the first, but Fernando got to him in the second with a double that brought in two runs. BC gradually answered, chipping away at Wildcats starter Anthony Maldonado. Frelick, en route to another multi-hit day with two stolen bases, had an RBI single in the second, and Jake Alu—who finished 4-for-4—tied it in the third with a single.

Gill largely cruised after the second inning, retiring 12 of the next 13 batters he faced before a costly throwing error from Alu halted his momentum in the sixth. He’d leave three batters later after he committed a throwing error to allow a pair of Wildcats runs to score with the bases loaded. BC rallied against the Bethune-Cookman bullpen, with a Jordan Pinto wild pitch bringing in Alu in the seventh, and Cunningham homered off Brandon Wilkes in the eighth.

While two-thirds of the series was defined by bullpen struggles, it’s a manageable problem for Gambino to fix. He has a strong rotation to work with and is getting plenty of offense up and down his lineup. Yes, the two losses will hurt now—they were winnable games and had BC poised for an impressive 6-0 start to the year—but they revealed that the bullpen is still getting sorted out, and that’s something that a lot of teams deal with at the outset of the year.

Featured Image Courtesy of Boston College Athletics

February 24, 2019