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Just short: St. John’s misses Big East tourney

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What started out as a long shot this weekend was within its grasp for the St. John’s baseball team Sunday at The Ballpark at St. John’s.

Thanks to winning the first two games of a three-game set against conference foe Rutgers and a Connecticut win over Pittsburgh, the Red Storm was right there, playing what essentially was a one-game playoff with the Scarlet Knights for the final Big East tournament berth.

How close was St. John’s? Trailing 11-10 in the bottom of the ninth, they had runners at first and second with no outs. But then the season came to a crashing halt as designated hitter Jeremy Winter grounded into a double play and Asa Grunenwald lined out to left to end the game, 11-10.

St. John’s, winner of five of six Big East games going into the finalé, heads home frustrated at coming up just short while Rutgers squeezes into the tournament as the No. 4 seed.

“I’m proud of the way we played, I can’t complain about the effort,” said St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer. “But the way it ended, it’s just not a good feeling.”

So many things had to go right for St. John’s over the weekend. The Red Storm had to beat highly touted Scarlet Knights ace Bobby Brownlie.

They did that.

Then St. John’s had to win the opener of a doubleheader Sunday against a Rutgers team also playing for its postseason lives.

They did that.

Both teams needed some help from Connecticut and received it when the Huskies knocked Pittsburgh out of postseason contention, 5-2.

It appeared early on that Rutgers (32-20, 15-11) would blow out the Red Storm after St. John’s took the first game of the doubleheader, 3-1. The Scarlet Knights battered starter Greg Holmes for five earned runs on four hits in two innings to take a 5-0 lead.

But St. John’s (29-23, 14-12) roared back to take the lead, thanks to a six-run third. Rutgers answered by scoring three runs off reliever Tom Klemm to go ahead, 8-6 in the top of the fourth.

Jason Kane’s two-out grand slam over the right field wall gave the Red Storm a 10-8 lead in the bottom of the stanza.

“The type of offense we have, we’re not a big inning type of team. We usually have to scratch and claw,” Blankmeyer said. “But down 5-0, we didn’t quit. We knocked [Rutgers starter Tom] Crohan out and we swung the bats, which we haven’t done consistently. We just sat on 10 [runs]. We couldn’t get off 10.”

After Rutgers got within one in the top of the fifth, Val Majewski delivered what proved to be the shot that sent the Scarlet Knights into the postseason, as his two-run home run off reliever Mike Tamulionis, who fell to 1-2, in the eighth inning gave Rutgers an 11-10 lead.

“It would have been more devastating if we won and Pittsburgh won,” Blankmeyer said. “We were just starting to mesh and the chemistry was starting to get really good. We were starting to come together, I just wish it was at an earlier time so we wouldn’t be in this predicament.”

St. John’s 3, Rutgers 1. The Scarlet Knights’ 1-0 lead in the top of the first was quickly erased as Billy Grasier belted an opposite field home run to lead off the bottom of the first for the Red Storm in the opening game of Sunday’s doubleheader.

The Red Storm scratched across a pair of runs in the fifth inning on a beautiful sacrifice bunt by Brett Hardie and Mike Rozema’s RBI-single to right to take a 3-1 lead.

Freshman pitcher Mike Wladyka was brilliant, allowing one run on six hits. He struck out five to improve to 4-4. Tamulionis pitched a perfect seventh to earn his fifth save. Tom Wheeler fell to 8-3.

St. John’s 6, Rutgers 1. Kane drove in a pair of runs in a four-run first inning and Grunenwald drove in two runs in the fifth inning against Brownlie, who fell to 6-5 by giving up six earned runs on nine hits in five innings. Brian Dorsey improved to 7-2, allowing one earned run on 10 hits, striking out three.

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

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