St. John’s falls short in NCAA baseball regionals

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The fourth-seeded Red...

By Dave Payne

STANFORD, Ca. — After letting the big one get away, St. John’s settled for a 1-2 record at the four-team, double-elimination NCAA baseball regional played Friday and Saturday at Sunken Diamond on the Stanford University campus.

The fourth-seeded Red Storm was eliminated Saturday night in a 7-2 loss to Stanford after remaining on life support with a 9-6 win over No. 3 Nevada-Las Vegas 9-6 earlier in the day.

St. John’s (37-23) can only wonder what might have been had the team not collectively shot itself in the foot during a regional-opening 4-3 loss Friday to No. 2 Long Beach State, which went on to win the title with 7-4 and 8-4 victories over No. 1 Stanford on Saturday and Sunday.

“I thought we played well against Long Beach,’’ St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer said. “I always tell these guys that in the game of baseball, you either win or lose, or you beat yourself. I thought we beat ourselves in the game.’’

Long Beach went with its No. 3 pitcher, Jason Vargas, saving junior ace right-hander Jered Weaver — taken in the first round in Monday’s Major League Baseball amateur draft by the California Angeles — and talented sophomore lefty Cesar Ramos in anticipation of facing Stanford twice.

The strategy worked, as Vargas limited the Red Storm to three runs and five hits in seven innings before relievers Brian Anderson and Neil Jamison combined to get the final six outs. Weaver and Ramos did their jobs, both prevailing against the Cardinal.

St. John’s sophomore starter Anthony Varvaro (8-4) deserved better. He allowed three runs — one earned — and two hits to the 49ers before being replaced by closer Craig Hansen with one out in the seventh and the Red Storm ahead 3-2.

Vargas began the inning with a walk, moved to second on a sacrifice and third on an infield error. After the next Long Beach hitter struck out on what should have the third out, Vargas scored the tying run on a single.

The Red Storm, which trailed Long Beach 2-1 after five innings, took the lead with solo shots by PJ Antoniato and Eddie Schultz in the sixth and seventh innings.

Long Beach scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on a one-out RBI single by Steve Velazco. Hansen suffered only his second blown save of the season.

St. John’s out hit the 49ers, 7-5. It marked only the ninth time the Red Storm had lost during the season when out-hitting an opponent.

Red Storm out-slugged Nevada Las Vegas in Saturday’s 11 a.m. elimination game, with 14 hits to the Rebels’ 8. St. John’s held on after taking an 8-3 lead with a five-run fifth.

Schultz was 3-for-4, including a home run, with two RBIs. Jim Martin and Joe Burke had two hits and two RBIs apiece, and Greg Thomson and Mike Rozema contributed two hits and an RBI each.

Freshman lefty Justin Muir (4-0), who came on relief of Red Storm starter Joe Reid in the fourth and worked 2.2 innings, was the winning pitcher.

Hansen entered in the ninth and extended his single-season school record save total to 10.

The tournament win was the first for Blankmeyer in his nine years at St. John’s, and the school’s first since defeating Cal State-Northridge in 1993.

St. John’s came back to play Stanford, starting shortly before 8 p.m. (11 p.m., Eastern), and the Red Storm committed five errors while seemingly sleepwalking through the 2-hour, 59-minute game.

Starting Red Storm freshman southpaw Matt Tosoni (6-2), who took the loss, allowed seven hits and six runs — two earned — during a six-inning stint.

Burke, Thomson and Antonisto had two hits apiece.

"I was happy with our overall performance in the regional,’’ Blankmeyer said. “We just as well could have beat Long Beach and we played very well against a good Nevada-Las Vegas team. We unfortunately weren’t as focused against Stanford.’’

Thomson, Schultz and Burke were selected to the 11-man all-regional team. Thomson batted .583 (7-for-12), scored three runs and drove in a pair, and led the regional with seven hits and four doubles; Schultz batted .500 (4 for 8) and Burke .400 (4 for 10) with three RBI.

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