Baseball, Spring, Sports

BC Baseball Reacts to First NCAA Tournament Appearance Since 2016 Despite Missing Out on Hosting

Less than 24 hours after the NCAA Selection Committee passed on Boston College baseball as a regional host, the mood inside the locker room at the Pete Frates Center was surprisingly light.

Sure, occasional jeers broke out when Indiana State—who barely edged out the Eagles for a hosting slot—or Clemson—who eliminated BC from the ACC Tournament—flashed across the TV screen. NCAA baseball committee chair John Cohen, who appeared on ESPN2 following the nationally televised bracket reveal, didn’t receive an especially warm reception either. 

But on Monday afternoon, in a room filled with players and lined with key BC figures such as Director of Athletics Blake James and John and Nancy Frates, the mood remained spirited and celebratory for BC baseball’s NCAA selection show watch party.

And for good reason. 

Culminating in its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2016, BC boasted multiple All-ACC members, picked up wins over perennial championship contenders, and reached a program-high No. 9 national ranking. And now, the Eagles will head to Tuscaloosa, Ala. as a No. 2 seed to take on a regional pool consisting of Alabama, Troy, and Nicholls State, first facing Troy on Friday at 3 p.m. 

“It’s huge,” catcher Peter Burns, BC’s longest-tenured starter, said. “Not only for the guys in the locker room, but for the alumni, the donors, the coaching staff. It’s been a long time coming.”

Underneath the disappointment of not hosting lies months worth of confidence, built by this nearly unprecedented list of accomplishments. In a season that began with the Eagles ranked at the bottom of the ACC Atlantic Division, according to a preseason coaches poll, BC has soared past expectations. But proving doubters wrong is nothing new for these Eagles. 

“I think we’ve played with a chip on our shoulder the whole year, especially from the predictions at the beginning of the year,” senior infielder Vince Cimini said. “Nobody had us even making a regional. So to be a No. 2 seed—you know, it would have been great to host here. That would have done a lot of good for the program, but I think we have just as good of an opportunity as a No. 2 seed.”   

Following a 19–34 slog of a 2022 season, head coach Mike Gambino believes his squad has risen to national prominence because of this underdog mentality. 

“The things that people see from the outside of our program as disadvantages, we believe are advantages,” Gambino said. “The reasons why people say we can’t win will be the reasons why we can.” 

Gambino also credited his team’s culture for its success. 

“If you’re around this group, every single one of them, you can feel how much they love each other,” Gambino said. “You feel how much they care about each other. And you feel every single one of them will tell you, whatever this team needs or this program needs, that’s what comes first. And that’s something we take pride in.”

Critical to BC’s dramatic turnaround is improved pitching. Led by ace starter Chris Flynn and high-leverage reliever Andrew Roman—both Division III transfers—the Eagles have lowered their team ERA from 7.25 in 2022 to 5.42 this season. 

“The staff did a really good job of finding, identifying guys that we thought had skills, traits that—with some adjustments—would be transferable to the highest level of college baseball,” Gambino said. “And then you combine that with tremendous makeup, character, toughness—that’s kind of the model.”

Burns, who has witnessed this turnaround first hand behind the plate, echoed these sentiments. 

“Those guys got something to prove,” Burns said. “They got that ‘it-factor’ and that chip on their shoulder. They want to come in here and show them who they really are. …They just got that dog in them, for sure.”

John West, whose ERA sat at 10.36 a season ago, has also emerged as of late. Amid a resurgence headlined by seven stellar innings at Fenway Park against Notre Dame and 5.2 shutout innings in the ACC Tournament against Clemson, West’s ERA has dropped to 4.52, giving Gambino another strong pitching option heading into the weekend. 

“With Flynn and West, we really do feel like we have—whether it’s two number ones, or 1 and 1A, or however you want to say it,” Gambino said. “It’s going to be something we’re going to have to look at and decide what we’re going to do for the rotation. … It’s a great problem to have.” 

Centered around junior slugger Joe Vetrano, whose 18 home runs is good for fifth in the ACC, BC’s bats have done damage this season as well. Sophomore Holy Cross transfer Nick Wang has made his presence known via countless clutch hits this season while senior Barry Walsh has provided a steady and reliable presence at the top of the order.    

And with the potential return of outfielder and MLB draft prospect Travis Honeyman, who’s been injured over the past month, BC’s offense threatens to grow even more formidable. 

“Hopeful,” Gambino said of Honeyman’s status. “Probably the best way to say it. Cam [Leary] will be back. Trav will be hopeful, we’ll find out in the next couple days.”

Making Monday’s festivities even sweeter was the venue in which they took place. The Pete Frates Center, which broke ground in 2019 and officially unveiled in 2022, drastically improved the program’s facilities and raised them to be on par with those of the rest of the conference. More importantly, however, the building reminds the program of one of its most heroic alumni in Pete Frates, BC ’07.

“It means so much to sit in this building and to have the boys get to react to that on TV and in the building with Pete’s name on it,” Gambino said. 

Gambino also spoke of the importance of BC’s tournament run in the fight against ALS. 

“Everybody in that regional is going to talk about Pete, everybody on ESPN is going to talk about Pete,” Gambino said. “They’re gonna see ‘Strike Out ALS’ on our batting gloves, on our gloves, on our hats, and it’s gonna be more people talking about this mission, which—we want to go to Omaha, right—but in the grand scheme of things, having a chance to end this disease is more important.” 

For a Massachusetts native like Burns, who grew up with Alumni Stadium in his backyard, the opportunity to elevate the program’s national status is especially special. 

“My grandparents, they were big BC football fans, so I was always around here,” Burns said. “Especially being from the area, I’ve always followed Boston College athletics.”

For players like Cimini, BC’s tournament berth represents a dream come true. 

“Everyone wants to play in the postseason,” Cimini said. “It’s every kid’s dream. Just to have a chance to go to Omaha is special. We’re going to make the most of it.”

But BC isn’t content with just a tournament appearance. As the Eagles look to make some noise in the big dance, the chip on their shoulder is bigger than ever, according to Gambino. 

“This group definitely feels like there’s a little something to prove,” Gambino said.

May 31, 2023