Starting pitcher John West has been used in a variety of ways for No. 20 Boston College baseball this season, as has most of the Eagles’ rotation and bullpen.
Both as a reliever and a starter, West, who owned a 5.52 ERA heading into Sunday’s matchup, has progressed over the course of this year just how BC head coach Mike Gambino expected the six-foot-eight righty to do—by trusting his command and the locations of his pitches, even if it means leaving the ball a little out of the zone, and developing as a competitor.
After surrendering eight runs on March 10 in the Virginia Tech series, West hasn’t allowed more than four runs in a game since. On Sunday in BC’s second tilt of a two-game home series against Villanova, West put that command on display, notching a season-high, and a career-high, nine strikeouts in five innings pitched.
“Pounding the zone, putting us right back in the dugout,” Gambino said of West. “If you’re standing on the field for a long time, it’s hard to get anything going. Even though we didn’t really break it open until the fifth, it felt like a constant rally. You’re back in the dugout so quickly it feels like a constant rally.”
BC (32–16, 14–13 Atlantic Coast) utilized West’s top performance to its advantage, posting 10 runs through five innings in a 12–3 victory over the Wildcats (13–34, 7–10 Big East) on Sunday just a day after topping Villanova 11–9. BC’s series sweep marks just its third series sweep of the season.
“You see, I mean, they’re a better team than their record,” Gambino said. “Not for nothing—and this is a good thing—but when you put a number next to your name, you get everybody’s best efforts. … [We] responded really, really well, and that’s the thing you and I’ve talked about all year. This group’s ability to figure out a way to win a baseball game. It’s pretty special.”
Despite handing out a run to the Wildcats in the top of the first inning, West started his day with two strikeouts. Craig Larsen’s chopped single brought in Villanova’s one run, but West bounced back with a punchout on John Whooley.
West dominated the top of the second inning with two more strikeouts, proving he was in full command of his off-speed slider and his two-seamer.
In the bottom of the second inning, Adonys Guzman stepped up to the plate with two runners on the bases, as Vince Cimini singled in the infield and Nick Wang walked. But the rookie catcher popped out, notching the first out of the half inning.
Sam McNulty shoved a ball to the pitcher in the next at-bat, however, advancing the runners to second and third base, and Cohl Mercado handled BC’s business, planting a hit that was fumbled by the second baseman to score two runs.
Nothing looked too hard to handle for West in the top of the third inning either, as he struck out two more batters to bring his strikeout total to six through three innings.
Wang rallied with his second walk of the game in the bottom of the third inning, loading the bases for Guzman. But after Vetrano flew home on a passed ball at the plate to bring the lead to 3–1, Guzman popped out again to end the inning there.
“Young players will tend to, especially young players with a tremendous amount of talent, will sometimes try to do too much,” Gambino said of Guzman. “And when he tries to do too much, he gets himself in trouble, and that’s when you swing a touch too big. When he stays within himself, he hits balls like he did there.”
West threw nothing but strikes and deceiving off-speed pitches were thrown in the top of the fourth inning, as he slowed down the Wildcats’ offense once again with a seventh strikeout.
Villanova’s Patrick Montfort replaced Luke Dziados in the bottom of the fourth inning, and the Eagles went hacking away. Montfort tallied two strikeouts initially, but the left-hander hit Barry Walsh, and Burns successfully bunted down the left side. Patrick Roche put the hammer to the nail with a blooped single to right field, scoring two runners to make it 5–1.
BC didn’t stop there, as Joe Vetrano reached first with a walk, prompting another pitching change for the Wildcats. Villanova’s Cabot Maher finally put the inning away, striking out Cimini.
West kept on working Villanova’s lineup in the top of the fifth inning, posting a fourth consecutive scoreless inning with two more strikeouts to make his total nine through five innings.
“He’s trusting his command, but it’s also player development,” Gambino said. “Kid continues to keep getting better and better. Kids grow, kids get better.”
It didn’t take long for BC to add to their lead in the bottom of the fifth inning, as Guzman roped a double to the right-center gap to score Wang.
McNulty placed a soft grounder through the left side to put a runner on first base and third, and pinch hitter Daniel Baruch walked to load the bases. Facing a new pitcher this time, Graham Moore, Walsh registered another walk to make it 7–1 with zero outs.
The Wildcats still could not find the spark they needed in Moore, as he walked Roche and then balked to make it 9–1 in BC’s favor. Vetrano flied-out a ball to deep right-center field, scoring Walsh to bring the Eagles’ run total to double digits, and Villanova couldn’t return the favor for the rest of the afternoon, eventually falling 12–3.
“They’re all gonna be tight games, which these guys thrive in, and you’re gonna trail at some point in a game, right?” Gambino said of BC going into the tournament season. “I mean even today. They [Villanova] go out and score first. So I feel really confident with these guys, and they feel really confident in all those situations.”
On Saturday, the Eagles rallied from a 7–1 deficit in the fourth inning to knock out Villanova by a final score of 11–9, clinching a spot in the 2023 ACC Tournament.
Relief pitcher Andrew Roman secured the win after starting pitcher Chris Flynn earned three runs in just two innings pitched—tied for his lowest innings total of the season.
With BC down 9–8, Wang delivered the go-ahead home run in the bottom of the eighth inning, scoring two runners and himself to make BC’s run total 11 in the game.
BC’s six runs in the sixth inning alone off the bats of Vetrano, Cimini, Wang, Walsh, and Burns made the difference. And the Eagles swept the series without two of their top contributors, Cameron Leary and Travis Honeyman.
“It’s crazy, you think about this—we haven’t had our full team since the first two innings of opening night,” Gambino said. “Not only that, and you combine the suspensions, right, it’s just been happening all year. It’s whatever guy you need and you come in and you get it done. We would all like to go into a regional with both of those guys healthy.”