Sports, Spring, Baseball

Eagles Cruise to 8–4 Victory in 11th Annual ALS Awareness Game Behind Vetrano’s Two Home Runs

BOSTON, Mass. — Heading into its 10th Annual ALS Awareness Game, which honors the late Pete Frates, BC ’07, at Fenway Park on April 23, 2022, Boston College baseball rode a five-game losing streak, held an ACC-worst 3–16 conference record, and was shut out in its previous two matchups. 

About 13 months later, ahead of the 11th annual ALS Awareness Game, nothing was the same. 

Heading into the matchup—its final game of the regular season—having already clinched a spot in the 2023 ACC Tournament, BC held a ranking next to its name and boasted a program-best 34 wins and 16 conference wins. Series wins over then-No. 18 North Carolina, then-No. 10 Virginia Tech, then-No. 21 Florida State, and then-No. 24 NC State were all in the making of BC’s winningest regular season ever. 

And as a culmination of the events that led to the finale of BC’s historic regular season, the No. 22 Eagles (34–17, 16–14 Atlantic Coast) squashed Notre Dame (30–22, 15–15) 8–4 to capture their sixth conference series win of the year. 

“Trying to keep it together,” BC head coach Mike Gambino said. “Probably the best way to say it. You wanna say it’s, you know, once the game starts it’s just another ballgame, right? It is. But Johnny out there and at this ballpark, on this night—I’d be lying if I told you my emotions we’re not getting to me.”

After two innings of play, barely any seats were up for grabs between the first base dugout and home plate. Fans popped out in sprees throughout the park to not only enjoy late-May college baseball, but also honor Frates, who captained BC in 2007 and was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 27. 

Coming off a game in which the right-hander struck out a career-high nine batters, John West cleaned up the side in the top of the first inning, putting down Notre Dame’s 1-2-3 batters. 

“Well, you’re settling with some frontline starters which I believe we had,” Gambino said. “What Flynny does today, our bullpen had to cover four innings. That’s very manageable. But you’re going into a doubleheader like this and if you get two bad starts, it becomes a lot of outs that the bullpens gotta get.” 

It didn’t take long for the Eagles, sporting BC’s military-appreciation uniforms, to go up in the game. Four batters into the bottom of the first inning, Joe Vetrano blasted an audible two-RBI home run. The ball sailed 407 feet over the center field warning track at an exit velocity of 116 mph and landed into Fenway’s bleacher section as BC players went into a frenzy inside the Boston Red Sox home dugout. 

West notched his first strikeout of the game in the top of the second inning, firing a fastball right through DM Jefferson’s moving bat, but Notre Dame starter Jackson Dennies topped West in the bottom of the inning. The right-hander, who owned a 2.77 ERA going into the affair, struck out Sam McNulty and Cohl Mercado to end the inning. 

Dennies froze BC’s lineup once again in the bottom of the third inning, striking out Patrick Roche in a second straight 1-2-3 inning. 

Catcher Vinny Martinez brought in Notre Dame’s first run in the top of the fourth inning to cut the deficit to 2–1, but Brooks Coetzee III hit into a double play to end the half inning.

Scoreless innings in the fifth and the top of the sixth made the chilly, spring night even chillier, but the Eagles’ dugout kept the energy alive, clapping to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Snow (Hey Oh)” along with fans behind their dugout. Moments later—and after relief pitcher Caden Spivey hit Peter Burns with a pitch in the bottom of the sixth—Roche singled to put two runners on with zero outs. Vetrano put the squad on his back from there. 

For the second time in the game, the 6-foot-3 lefty piped a home run deep into a field of empty seats, which made Fenway’s Pesky Pole look just a little bit smaller. Vetrano’s long shot put the Eagles up 5–1, and a Barry Walsh blooper brought home two more runners to make it 7–1. 

“It’s definitely a great feeling,” Vetrano said of hitting his 17th and 18th home runs of the season. “But I think it starts with, you know, the scouting reports from our coaches and the communication between each batter. And yeah, when I hit that I thought it had a shot, and when it went out—goosebumps.”

Mercado capped things off in the bottom of the sixth inning by scoring on a wild pitch to score BC’s eighth run, and West ripped right through Notre Dame’s lineup in the top of the seventh, striking out two to bring his strikeout total to four.

“That was a dream come true,” West said of pitching at Fenway Park. “I felt like my soul left my body for a moment. It was probably the best moment of my life.”

Despite a scare in the bottom of the eighth inning during which Julian Tonghini failed to replicate West’s success as the Fighting Irish loaded the bases and scored a second run, Ian Murphy held down the fort and punched BC through the inning with back-to-back strikeouts despite allowing a run. Murphy finished the game with one more allowed run, but BC came out on top 8–4 at Fenway nevertheless. Gambino said he could not put the emotions of the game into words.  

“The closeness of this group, there’s a real love in this clubhouse between these guys” Gambino said. “People don’t realize what the grind and how hard the ACC and the SEC are to play in. [Pete’s] fingerprints are all over them, right—from the rain, to getting Johnny, I mean it’s just what [Frates] does man. It always works out.”

May 19, 2023