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Villanova takes finale to avoid sweep by St. John’s

The St. John’s baseball team outscored Villanova 20-4 in a doubleheader sweep Saturday at The Ballpark at St. John’s, including a 22-hit barrage in a 16-2 victory in the nightcap.

Facing the Wildcats fourth best pitcher in Bob Grzenda, the Red Storm were a shoe-in to sweep Villanova in its Big East opening series, right?

Wrong.

St. John’s spotted Villanova a 5-0 lead and despite rallying for three runs in the seventh inning, could not overcome its early deficit to fall, 5-3, Sunday.

“This league is topsy-turvy and on any given weekend you can walk away 3-0 or 0-3,” said St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer. “You have to come out to play. They beat us today, but we helped out their cause a bit.”

St. John’s starting pitcher Charlie Bilezikjian was wild early and Villanova (12-8, 1-2) capitalized, scoring two runs in the top of the first inning.

Wildcats’ slugger Rob Cafiero (3-for-4, three RBIs) added a solo home run in the fifth inning, a lined shot down the left field line, and Brendan Mannix put Villanova ahead, 4-0, in the sixth, on a mammoth solo shot over the 390-foot sign in center field, becoming the first collegiate player to ever homer to dead center at The Ballpark at St. John’s.

“In the first inning Charlie was inconsistent, he couldn’t get a feel for it early,” Blankmeyer said of Bilezikjian, who fell to 2-2. “After the first inning he settled down, but he left two fastballs up.”

After the Wildcats added another run in the top of the seventh on Cafiero’s double to left, St. John’s (8-10, 2-1) finally got to Grzenda (3-1) in the bottom of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, including Anthony DeRosa’s lead-off home run off the left field foul pole to get within two, 5-3.

But the Red Storm rally ended there, as pinch hitter Blake Hershelman grounded into an inning-ending double play. St. John’s also had a runner on first in the bottom of the ninth, but reliever James Russell, who picked up his fifth save, got pinch hitter Jeremy Winter to ground out into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game.

St. John’s returns to Big East action Thursday with a doubleheader at Pittsburgh before playing two at West Virginia Saturday.

St. John’s 4, Villanova 2. Winter hit a two-run home run that landed in the Red Storm bullpen in the bottom of the seventh inning to give St. John’s a dramatic 4-2 win in its conference opener Saturday. Tom Klemm (2-2) picked up the win in relief of freshman starter Jim Wladyka, who went 6.1 innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits.

St. John’s 16, Villanova 2. Jason Kane went 4-for-5 with two doubles and two runs scored, while Bilezikjian drove in three runs with two singles. Josh Young went 3-for-4 with two singles, two runs scored and two RBIs. Senior Greg Holmes improved to 2-0, allowing two unearned runs on four hits in 7.1 innings, while striking out five.

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

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