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Late-inning collapse prevents series sweep for SJU

It was supposed to be a pleasant plane ride back to Queens for the St. John's baseball team. After sweeping Pittsburgh on Saturday, the Red Storm were ahead of the Panthers in Sunday's series finale, 9-3, after 6 1/2 innings and appeared to be en route to their first Big East series sweep of the young season.

But then the wheels fell off the proverbial wagon. Pittsburgh rallied for six unanswered runs to send the game into extra innings. When Charis Britt hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded and one out, the Panthers were the ones smiling, rallying to win 10-9 in 12 innings at Trees Field Sunday afternoon.

"We should have swept them, and the players realize that," said St. John's head coach Ed Blankmeyer. "When you're up 9-3 going into the seventh and you have a number of chances to put the game away...relief pitching came into play and we didn't close it out."

A sacrifice fly by senior right fielder Pete Graham gave St. John's (15-9, 3-3 Big East) a 1-0 lead after one inning. The Red Storm added two more runs in the second on back-to-back triples from freshman third baseman Billy Ryan and senior shortstop Anthony Sutter and an RBI single from freshman catcher Asa Grunenwald.

The lead grew to 5-0 in the top of the third when junior first baseman Chris Fallon hit a two-run home run over the left field wall, but the Panthers cut the margin to two runs, 5-3, in the bottom of the inning.

The Red Storm appeared to put the game away with two runs in the fifth and sixth. Junior outfielder Eric Potts and sophomore infielder Jason Kane were issued back-to-back walks to lead off the fifth. Potts scored on an error, and a single from senior second baseman Matt Galante scored Kane.

In the sixth, the Red Storm added two more runs, increasing the margin to six runs, 9-3.

"We had close to 40 hits on the weekend," Blankmeyer said. "We did get runners on, but we didn't finish them off. If you asked me in the beginning of the season, my concern would be offensively. Right now our pitching has to get stronger."

Pittsburgh (19-11, 5-4) scored one run in the seventh, four in the eighth and tied the game in the ninth. The teams were scoreless in the 10th and 11th innings, respectively, before the Panthers loaded the bases on junior pitcher Kevin Zaug, who fell to 1-1 this season.

St. John's had taken a 9-3 lead after six and a half innings, but Pittsburgh's Scott Schultz and Lou Kammermeier threw five innings of scoreless relief, allowing only one hit, to nail down the win.

After non-league games against St. Peter's on Tuesday and Wagner on Thursday, the Red Storm return to conference action this weekend with a home series against Georgetown. St. John's takes on local rival St. Francis College Tuesday at 3 p.m. in the team's first game at Shea Stadium this season.

St. John's 7, Pittsburgh 2. Junior pitcher Kevin McGerry pitched a complete-game three hitter to pace the Red Storm in the front end of a doubleheader Saturday. He let up two unearned runs and struck out seven to improve to 4-0 on the season. For his effort, McGerry was named Big East Pitcher of the Week.

Senior shortstop Anthony Sutter belted a two-run home run in the second inning to increase St. John's lead to 3-0 and a four-run sixth inning, highlighted by a two-run triple from Graham.

St. John's 10, Pittsburgh 5. In game two, senior pitcher Niebling threw six innings, striking out nine batters as he improved to 3-3 this season. Juniors John Troiola and Zaug combined for three innings of scoreless relief to close out the win.

Fallon led the charge offensively with two homers, both solo shots, for the Red Storm. Kane hit a two-run home run in the fourth and Sutter followed with a solo shot. Freshman designated hitter Billy Ryan added a two-run shot for St. John's.

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