Picture the Long Island Expressway during rush hour with a lane closed to construction. That is the type of traffic jam in the Big East conference this year and the St. Johns baseball team finds itself smack in the middle of the pack.
Three games separate first-place Boston College from eighth-place Villanova. And with only four teams heading to the Big East tournament next month in Bridgewater, N.J. the Red Storm knows every move is a critical one in order to avoid being squeezed out of the postseason.
For the first three games of its home weekend doubleheaders against Georgetown and Virginia Tech, St. Johns did the right things, made the right moves. After sweeping the Hoyas Friday and taking the opener, 2-1, against the Hokies Sunday at The Ballpark at St. Johns, the Red Storm had a bevy of great chances to take control of the nightcap.
But St. Johns squandered virtually every opportunity and made mistakes on the mound, in the field and at the plate as Virginia Tech salvaged a spilt with an 8-5 victory.
The Red Storm could have taken sole possession of second place, but instead finds itself in a five-way tie with Notre Dame, Rutgers, Seton Hall and Virginia Tech.
With one out in the bottom of the first inning, Virginia Tech freshman hurler Brett Cory loaded the bases on three walks, but Red Storm freshman Jim Martin grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Trailing 8-4, St. Johns (18-15, 8-6) again had the bases loaded with no out in the eighth inning, on three straight walks by reliever Mike Crisci the third of four Hokies pitchers in the nightcap.
But Charlie Bilezikjian, who got roughed up for seven earned runs on 10 hits in 6.1 innings to fall to 2-5, also grounded into a double play as John Young scored. Struggling Jason Kane then grounded to third to end the inning.
They walked a lot of batters but we didn't capitalize, St. Johns coach Ed Blankmeyer said of a Virginia Tech pitching staff that issued 11 free passes in the nightcap. We didnt get the big hits and you have to, especially when the opposition gives up base runners.
Bilezikjian, who has done a great job to help replace starting pitchers Marc Goldberg, Geno Orsogna and Joe Reid, who made up 46 percent of the innings pitched for St. Johns last year and were projected to be the Big East starters before the season, had a difficult afternoon against the Hokies.
After giving up back-to-back jacks to Brad Bauder and Spencer Harris to lead off the fourth inning to put the Red Storm in a 3-0 hole, the senior from Staten Island made up for it in the fifth inning, launching a two-run blast over the wall in leftfield to cap a three-run inning to put the Red Storm ahead, 4-3.
Virginia Tech (16-16, 8-6) tied the game on Chris Hutchinsons sacrifice fly to leftfield in the seventh inning. Bilezikjian then walked John West and after Big East co-Player of the Week Marc Tugwell stole third base, the Hokies had runners at the corners with one out.
Bilezikjian caught West leading off first and the Red Storm had him in a rundown before Tugwell broke for the plate and scored the go-ahead run on a delayed double steal. Bilezikjian was pulled after Wyatt Toregas single to centerfield.
Its kind of funny how things work out, Bilezikjian said. We didnt make the play we should have and then they rolled and won the game. Its kind of a letdown.
Red Storm reliever Gilbert Fregoso couldnt stop the bleeding, giving up consecutive run-scoring singles to cap a four-run inning, giving the Hokies an 8-4 lead.
We pick the guy off first but we dont get the out. In a big inning, you cant do that, Blankmeyer said. You have to get the out. Bases loaded with no out in a 5-4 game [in the eighth inning] is a much different situation.
In the opener, Ray Downs second home run of the year, a towering 410-foot solo blast over the centerfield wall, tied the game at 1 for the Red Storm in the third inning. Downs, a junior rightfielder from New Rochelle, became just the second collegiate player to homer into the black mesh netting in the two-year history of the ballpark.
Brian Dorsey kept the game tied, scattering three hits in seven innings to improve to 5-1. Josh Young broke the tie in the bottom of the seventh inning with a sacrifice fly to leftfield to score Anthony DeRosa to give the Red Storm a dramatic 2-1 victory.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.
©2002 Community News Group
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