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A Scarlet sweep for Red Storm

Not once, but twice, as the Red Storm swept a doubleheader in convincing fashion from the Scarlet Knights, 10-4 and 4-1, at the Ballpark at...

By Joseph Manniello

The St. John’s baseball team did something Sunday afternoon that no other squad has done in April: beat Rutgers.

Not once, but twice, as the Red Storm swept a doubleheader in convincing fashion from the Scarlet Knights, 10-4 and 4-1, at the Ballpark at St. John’s.

Rutgers (21-15, 11-4 Big East), the 2003 Big East regular season champion, won 14 consecutive games over a span of 29 days. Its last loss came March 28, a 12-11 defeat at Seton Hall.

Streak snapped.

“We’re coming on strong,” said sophomore Anthony Varvaro, who improved to 6-1 on the season after going the distance in Game 1, allowing six hits and striking out seven. “We needed to take three out of four this weekend and we ended up doing that. Our chances of making it to the tournament are getting better and better each week.”

While St. John’s (25-14, 12-5) celebrated afterward, things weren’t so pleasant in the first inning of the doubleheader’s opener.

After Varvaro struck out the first two batters he faced, third baseman Jim Martin’s error permitted four unearned RU runs, courtesy of back-to-back RBI doubles, an RBI triple and another Red Storm error.

That was the last time a visitor touched home plate.

Varvaro allowed only three hits over the next six innings, as the SJU bats did the rest, scoring six runs in the bottom of the fourth, then four more in the fifth.

“Anthony did an outstanding job of just settling down, keeping us in the ballgame and then we just got to their guys,” St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer said. “Our guys just hung tough.”

Joe Burke and Chris Joachim both singled and later scored on a deep drive to left-center field by Blake Hershelman. A Ken Devenney ground-ruled double and a wild pitch from reliever Matt Putsay, who replaced starter Jack Egbert (the best friend and former high school teammate of St. John’s starting hurler Jim Wladyka), tied the score at 4.

Martin redeemed himself, hitting a pop-up that seemed like it would never drop. When it did, it landed between four Scarlet Knights in short-left center. Devenney scored and, after a P.J. Antoniato sacrifice fly, the fourth-inning barrage had finally ended.

It was déjà vu for Hershelman in the fifth. The junior connected off of RU reliever Tom Mallafronte for another two-run double, this one a rope that fell just fair down the left-field line.

“They were both off-speed pitches,” explained Hershelman, who went 0-for-3 in the second game, following his 3-for-4, four RBI performance. “I like off speed, so I sat back on it.”

With a little help from the wind, Devenney followed with his first home run of the season, a two-run blast to right that put the final touches on a 15-hit barrage.

With a little less offense and the same level of quality pitching, SJU completed the sweep as redshirt freshman Rob Delaney and 6-foot-5 Craig Hansen befuddled the opposition, while the Storm scored once in four different innings.

The former improved to 2-0, striking out four and scattering seven hits over 7.1 innings, while the latter recorded his school-record eighth save of the season, striking out the last four batters he faced to end the game.

“Once Hansen’s in,” Varvaro said, “the game is over.”

Added Hershelman: “He’s pretty much untouchable.”

With May approaching, St. John’s, which is one of only four teams with a winning record in conference play (the top four teams advance to the annual tourney), has a realistic eye on the school’s first tournament invite since 1999.

“This team has an opportunity to do it,” Blankmeyer said, noting that the team’s remaining series against West Virginia, Seton Hall and Pittsburgh will determine its fate. “We’re where we want to be. We control our own destiny and that’s all you can ask.”

St. John’s 6, Villanova 5. Martin’s RBI-single in the bottom of the eighth inning capped a two-run comeback for the Red Storm, which split a doubleheader at St. John’s Friday afternoon. Antoniato was 2-for-3 with two walks and Devenney was 2-for-4.

Villanova 4, St. John’s 1. Nick Allen went the distance for Villanova, allowing one earned run on eight hits as the Red Storm lost at home for just the third time this season.

Reach contributing writer Joseph Manniello by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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