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SJU baseball drops first game in new stadium

For the first time in 22 months, the St. John’s baseball team played a home game on its Jamaica campus. After a year of having to get on buses to host games at Shea Stadium, New York Institute of Technology and C.W. Post while The Ballpark at St. John’s was being built, the Red Storm were finally home.

That long wait ended Saturday as the Red Storm opened its Big East schedule against the University of Connecticut.

But strangely enough, St. John’s didn’t play with that hunger and desire usually found in home openers as the Red Storm fell behind 3-0 in the first inning en route to a 3-2 loss to the Huskies in the front end of a double-header.

“We weren’t ready to play,” said St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer. “It’s the type of game in the Big East that costs you, one of those you wish you could have back.”

The Red Storm (6-8, 2-1) responded by winning the nightcap, 8-3 and the rubber match, 7-6 Sunday.

In his Big East debut, South Florida-transfer Marc Goldberg got lead-off batter Mike Scott to fly out to center before Peter Soteropoulos reached on an error by second baseman Chad Cambra.

Cy Hess doubled Goldberg’s 1-2 pitch to right field, as Soteropolous scored from first to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead.

Jon Gorrie followed with a single to right, but freshman Billy Graiser misplayed the ball, allowing Gorrie to reach second and Hess to score.

Goldberg hit Mike Leonard before Joe Kagerer singled to left to load the bases. Brian Tisbert’s sacrifice fly to left scored Gorrie as UConn (3-12, 1-2), a team that is second to last in the conference with a .256 batting average and had lost seven of its last games, took a 3-0 lead.

“It seems like we didn’t come out to play,” said Goldberg, who allowed three unearned runs to fall to 1-3. “We made a couple of errors and they got a couple of hits. We just didn’t come out ready.”

The Red Storm, last in the Big East with a .237 team batting average, struggled against UConn junior Patrick Sperone, who was far from overpowering on the hill, yet allowed just three hits through the first four innings.

St. John’s finally got on the board in the fifth inning as Bryan Hedgecock, who led off the inning with a walk, scored on Charlie Bilzezikjian’s ground out to short.

The Red Storm rallied in the seventh inning as Hedgecock doubled to left to open the inning. Graiser’s infield single set up runners at the corners with no out. Graiser was off and running on Mike Rozema’s single to short. Hedgecock scored to cut St. John’s deficit to 3-2.

With runners at first and second and still no out, Bilzezikjian tried twice to bunt the runners over, but both times fouled it down the third base line before grounding into a fielder’s choice at third.

Chris Fallon stepped to the plate and hit a screamer to short, but Kagerer lunged up to make the grab and caught Graiser leaning off second for the game-ending double play.

“It was just a lack of execution. If we get the bunt down, the game is over,” Blankmeyer said. “[Fallon] hits a line drive and [Grasier] made a bad read on that. They gave us our chances and we didn’t respond.”

Sperone went the distance, allowing two earned runs on eight hits, striking out three with three walks. He threw 117 pitches in seven innings to improve his record to 2-1.

After opening the season with 11 games away from home, St. John’s is back on the road Friday and Saturday for a pair of doubleheaders at Virginia Tech and Georgetown before returning home to face local foe Columbia Wednesday at 3 p.m.

St. John’s 8, UConn 3. The Red Storm broke the nightcap open with five runs in the eighth inning to split the doubleheader. Hedgecock delivered the game-winning hit with a two-run single to right center. Freshman lefty Ryan Kyle earned his first collegiate win, pitching 1.1 innings of relief and retiring four of the five batters he faced.

St. John’s 7, UConn 6. The Red Storm busted out for six runs in the first two innings and sophomore Tom Klemm went seven innings as St. John’s hung on for a 7-6 win Sunday at The Ballpark at St. John’s. Klemm improved to 2-1 while junior Greg Holmes threw 1.2 innings of relief for his third save of the year.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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