Sports, Spring, Baseball

No. 11 Boston College Baseball Suffers Series Loss to Clemson, but Gambino Remains Optimistic

It didn’t matter where you were standing or sitting down. When fans at Harrington Athletics Village heard the crack of the bat, they probably knew it was going out of the park. 

With a 2–0 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, Joe Vetrano put the hammer to the nail with a solo home run to increase No. 11 Boston College baseball’s lead to 3–0 in the second game of BC’s Friday doubleheader against Clemson. The ball sailed so far, it wasn’t clear when—or where—it landed. After the game, BC head coach Mike Gambino stopped in the middle of his postgame interview and told Vetrano the metrics of his home run.  

471 feet, 116 exit velocity. For reference, the hardest-hit baseball in MLB history was only five miles per hour faster, hit by Giancarlo Stanton of the New York Yankees on Aug. 9, 2018. 

“No way,” Gambino said when he heard the official metrics of the home run. “Joe! 471, 116 off the bat!.” 

The home run marked Vetrano’s second home run of the afternoon, on a day in which he totaled the most RBIs on the Eagles’ roster. BC (29–14, 13–11 Atlantic Coast) went 1–1 on the day, defeating Clemson (28–17, 11–10) 3–1 in the second matchup of the doubleheader after dropping the first 9–7. 

“471 pull-side,” Gambino said. “I mean, kid can really, really hit man.” 

Vetrano’s first home run of the day jolted the Eagles to a 2–1 lead in the bottom of the first inning in the first game of the doubleheader. Despite the loss, his heroics—along with a two-run, two-hit day from Travis Honeyman and a one-run, two-hit day from Nick Wang—put the Eagles into position to make a run. Down 9–5, BC notched two runs in the eighth inning, but three straight flyouts ended the contest in the bottom of the ninth. 

Nevertheless, Vetrano’s opposite-side homer is likely still cemented into the eyes of Clemson’s Will Taylor. Taylor made a quick move on the ball after it was hit, tracking it to the wall. But when he made his leap, hoping for the ball to land in his glove, he came up empty, taking a yoga pose on the turf. Taylor couldn’t have made a better play—he only grimaced in frustration, slapping his glove. 

“He just sometimes gets a little too big, and gets out of himself,” Gambino said. “When he tries to do a little too much, he gets too big. But I mean you see that ball [in the second game], 116 off the bat, you know, he doesn’t have to do too much.”

Going back to the second game of the doubleheader, an unlikely hero emerged who fully put the Tigers’ lineup down. Before Friday night, John West—who owns a 6.08 ERA—had not pitched more than four innings into a game, despite Gambino’s insistence on riding him out as one of the weekend rotation starters. 

“I think what you’re watching is, what you’re getting to see is you’re getting to see player development,” Gambino said. “You’re getting to see a player get better throughout the season. I will tell you I think Johnny West is gonna pitch in the big leagues. I believe it, you’re watching him grow and grow and grow. And he did it on short rest this week, allowing us to keep Flynny on Saturday which is huge.”

Through six innings, West allowed just one run on a 70 percent strike rate. He only garnered one strikeout, but using the pitch clock to his advantage, West pitched fast innings. From the first inning to the sixth, West threw 11 pitches, 11 pitches, eight pitches, five pitches, six pitches, and six pitches, respectively, before being taken out after allowing two on base in the top of the seventh. 

“That’s the ACC, like 3–1 ball games in the ACC and SEC happen,” Gambino said. “There’s lights out arms all over. So, we don’t like it either—getting carved up—but there are some days it’s just gonna be a battle and a scrap.” 

And that’s exactly how the Eagles got out of their hitting slump in the game too—by getting scrappy. 

This type of gameplay is exactly what Gambino anticipated at the start of the season and after a massive run which resulted in a ranking for BC for the first time all year. The barrel efficiency is there, even if they weren’t showing up in the batting numbers initially—or conversely, were showing up to an extent that was not sustainable. 

“They just keep creeping up too, right?” Gambino said of BC’s hitting numbers. “When we were having those conversations, right, Travis was hitting like .230, now he’s hitting .290. Joey was hitting .230, now he’s hitting .290. Roche was hitting like .230, now he’s hitting .290.” 

It’s all about react and response, according to Gambino. 

“And the two things I told them was they continue to show that they can respond,” Gambino said. “No matter what happens to them, and that’s pretty special. And they continue to show that they’re gonna figure out how to win a baseball game.”

For Gambino, response is more situational. When West expired in the second game of the doubleheader, Gambino and pitching coach Kevin Vance were faced with a dilemma—whether to put Joey Ryan in the game or go to their ace reliever, Andrew Roman. Thinking situationally, they responded by putting in Ryan and stacking Roman behind starting pitcher Chris Flynn the next day. 

Ryan settled into a groove, registering four strikeouts on zero walks and zero runs, tallying his third save of the year and a 13th conference win for the Eagles. Patrick Roche and Sam McNulty recorded two RBIs in the contest in back-to-back innings right before Vetrano hit the shot that was heard around the world. Or, well, Brighton, Mass.

“Yeah, we did,” Gambino said of thinking about putting Roman in to close out the game instead of Ryan. “We went back and forth, we were 50-50. And Roman has been unbelievable, electric all year. But taking a step back, Joey pitched us out of the seventh and started to find stuff. But we just sat back, Vance was like ‘dude, the way he’s throwing, let’s just roll with him.’ And then we had Roman for tomorrow.” 

And yes, BC did in fact have Roman—who holds a team-leading 0.90 ERA—the next day. They also had Flynn, the Eagles’ best starter, and best complement to Roman on the roster. But they ended up with a 6–3 loss in their hands on Saturday, and a series loss as the icing on the cake. Clemson’s three-run third inning and two-run seventh was too much for BC to overcome, even though it made a run in the bottom of the ninth. 

Honeyman doubled to left center to start the inning, and Roche’s single to left brought the runner home to gain back a run, but a Wang flyout and a Walsh strikeout would effectively leave the Eagles short of another conference series win. 

But this is the style of play the Eagles have rode all season long—thinking about how they’re going to respond the next week, and learning to forget the past. That’s how BC has earned the second-most wins in their ACC division, and how they’ve increased their win total to 10 more wins than all of last year combined. 

“I just think nothing really fazes them,” Gambino said. “Honestly not for nothing. Eric [Schroeder] grabbed me afterwards. That’s a tough, competitive team as ever.”

April 30, 2023