Birdball Recall Returns: Eagles Pick Up First Series Win on 2018 Opening Weekend
By Quinn Kelly
Your 2018 Boston College Eagles baseball team is off and running after a solid series win out in Santa Clara. The Eagles return 6 starters this year and almost all of their pitching staff, and looked for the most part like they weren’t missing a beat out in California this weekend. Two dominant pitching performances out of former freshman All-American Jacob Stevens and ACC Pitcher of the Week Brian Rapp sandwiched an outlier of a performance Saturday in which the Eagles pitching fell apart in the 7th inning to surrender what looked like a win and a chance at a series sweep. The Eagles averaged almost 6 runs a day out of an offense that Associate HC Alex Trezza has said needs to improve run production this season. Overall, there was plenty to be excited about after Opening Weekend, and plenty to dive into here in 2018’s first edition of Birdball Recall.
Game 1: Win, 5-1
After a sophomore season that didn’t quite live up to the hype created by his incredible rookie campaign, Jacob Stevens started out his junior year looking as determined and dominant as ever. Early in the season, you’re going to see guys on innings and pitch limits, no matter how well they are doing. These caps are the only thing that kept Bear from spinning a real gem against the Broncos. Stevens let the first batter he faced on the season reach with an infield single in the bottom of the first. That would be the only man to reach until the 3rd, as Stevens responded by striking out three straight to end the 1st and another to start the 2nd en route to a 1-2-3 inning. He issued his only walk of the game to Matt Smithwick to start off the 3rd, before promptly picking him off. His lone extra-base hit of the day followed, a double from Austin Reyes. Bear would force a fly out and pick up his 5th K to get out of the inning, stranding the first of two RISP the Broncos would place against him. Stevens fanned two more in a 1-2-3 4th and picked up his 8th and final strikeout to end his outing in the 5th, leaving two men aboard for Santa Clara. He left the game after a solid five innings pitched with a 4-0 lead and in line for his first victory of the season. Here’s Stevens final line:
Stevens 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, BB, 8 K
You really couldn’t have asked for more out of the junior stud to start off the season. Aces do ace things and if we can get performances like that out of Stevens every Friday this season, we’re going to have a chance in every series.
On the offensive side of things, the Eagles jumped out to a lead right away, putting runners on by a Dante Baldelli walk and a Gian Martellini single, and pushing one across with a Jake Alu groundout and help from a wild pitch from Broncos starter Alex Barden. The Eagles were a team last year that found ease in getting runners on, but struggled to bring them in for runs. It was nice to see the boys manufacture a run right away this season, hopefully an omen of good things to come!
The Eagle would quickly add two more in the 2nd, getting a pair off of the first home run of the season for lead-off man Jake Palomaki. Mak brought in Brian Dempsey with him, and put the Eagles ahead 3-0. After two innings of play, you had a great look at the stars of this team making impacts from the jump. Stevens will undoubtedly be the leader of this pitching staff, and he was sitting with one hit and four strikeouts after 2. Martellini, who will be the biggest power source in the lineup, had the Eagles first hit of the season to set up the opening score, and Palomaki, who will arguably be the most important single bat in the lineup from the top of the order, flashing his underrated power with a big home run. So many games will depend on the performances of these three, and an Eagles fan couldn’t help but smile after just the first 2 innings of the season.
Martellini would keep the good times rolling, picking up his second hit of the day to start the 3rd and coming around to score on a Jacob Yish sac fly. BC would tack on their final run later in the 6th, with Palomaki bunting in Mitch Bigras to give the Eagles a 5-0 lead. After Day 1, Palomaki sat at 3-5 with 3 RBI and a run scored, and Martellini at 2-3 with a walk and a run scored. Great day for both of these guys.
Sean Hughes came in to relieve Stevens in the 6th and saw Santa Clara scratch across their only run. It was unearned, however, with Niko Holm coming in on an error by Anthony Maselli at third. Hughes would finish with one K and one hit, and was followed by scoreless innings by Zach Stromberg (2) and Carmen Giampetruzzi (1). The staff as a whole finished with 13 Ks against an able Broncos lineup.
Overall, great day for the Eagles, both from the hill and at the dish. A really good, all-around team win to start off the season.
Game 2: Loss, 20-9
The only way to look at the Saturday game of this series is to try pull some silver linings from a game that got away from the Eagles in a hurry. Off the top, the Eagles should be happy with their run production, hitting for extra bases, and a very solid outing from Tommy Lane in his first appearance since 2016. After six and a half innings, the Eagles had themselves primed to pick up a win and move to 2-0 on the season. It would be all for not, though, as the wheel completely fell off the wagon in the bottom of the 7th.
BC was able to jump out ahead early again, with scoring in the top of the 1st for the second straight day. This time it was Jake Alu, cashing in with the second two-run jack of the season for the Birds. Alu brought Baldelli in with him, and put the Eagles up 2-0 before Dan Metzdorf hit the bump.
A two run cushion wouldn’t be enough for Metzdorf, though. The junior just didn’t have it Saturday, giving up four runs in the 1st, three of which came in on the first homer of the season for Santa Clara, off the bat of Jake MacNichols. The Eagles would get one back in the 2nd with an RBI double from Palomaki (one of two he’d have on the day), but Santa Clara came right back, tacking on an unearned run that chased Metzdorf from the game having collected just three outs in the start. Metzdorf gave way to Tommy Lane sporting a real tough looking line:
Metzdorf 1.0 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 4 BB
Lane had an excellent day in relief, proving to be the only Eagles pitcher to find any real success against the Broncos lineup. In a triumphant return to the Eagles bullpen, Lane sat down nine of the ten batters he faced, allowing only one to reach base with a walk in his first inning. He registered the only two 1-2-3 innings of the day for the Eagles pitching staff. These three innings of stop-gap pitching gave the Eagles a chance to take control of the game, taking one run back in the 4th on an RBI single for Baldelli that brought in Palomaki after his 2-out triple, and claiming a 9-5 lead in the 5th with an RBI from Jack Cunningham and two more each from Mak and Baldelli.
Redshirt freshman Joey Walsh would come in in the bottom of the 5th, making his first appearance as an Eagle and holding the Broncos scoreless in his lone inning of work. Matt Gill took the hill in the 6th, allowing a run but still sending the Eagles to the 7th with a three-run lead. Sitting at 9-6 heading into the bottom of the 7th, things looked pretty good for the Birds.
The bullpen that had held the Broncos to one run over six innings fell apart in the 7th, though. In what one can only pray is the single worst inning for the Eagles all season, Santa Clara scored 14 times, sent 17 men to the plate, homered three times, including two grand slams from Jake Brodt, and were hit by a pitch seven times. There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe how bad of an inning this was for Eagles pitching, but suffice to say it really couldn’t have gone any worse. Santa Clara found themselves ahead 20-9 by the time the final out of the 7th was recorded, and, effectively, with a series-evening win in the book.
So, again, plenty of silver linings here for the Eagles. Good offensive production for the most part, a three extra-base hit day for Palomaki, a live bat for Baldelli, and a really solid effort in relief for Tommy Lane. In a game they’d like to forget, there were still plenty of positives for the Eagles, and a loss that can be partially chocked up to a very fluky inning.
Game 3: Win, 3-1
After two solid days at the plate, the Eagles bats were a bit quiet on Sunday. For the first time on the weekend, the Birds were held scoreless in the 1st, taking until the 4th inning to plate their first run on an RBI groundout for Martellini that brought in Alu. The 1-0 lead would hold up for the Eagles for almost the entirety of the game, thanks to a masterful performance put on by Sunday starter Brian Rapp.
After Stevens’s outing on Friday, it was hard to believe we’d see a better outing on the weekend, but that’s exactly what we got from the senior righty on Sunday afternoon. Rapp, who broke out as a junior last year, leading the team in ERA amongst starters, got his final campaign as an Eagle off to a great start. In the bottom of the 1st, Rapp walked the Broncos lead-off man Joe Becht. He would prove to be the last man to reach base until the 5th, as Rapp rattled off 13 straight put-outs, eight by way of the K, before hitting Grant Meylan with one out in the 5th. It was an absolutely DOMINANT stretch for Rapp, who tore through the Broncos lineup with ease, issuing only one full count over the run. Meylan would end up being thrown out in a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play, keeping Rapp’s 1-2-3 inning streak intact. He would add another such inning in the 6th to finish his outing, ending with five straight 1-2-3 innings and 10 strikeouts. In an incredible Sunday outing, Rapp fanned two batters in an inning four times (1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th) and faced just one over the minimum in a six inning, no hit, shutout effort. His final line was as good as it gets for a first start of the season:
Rapp 6.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, HBP, 10 K
Perhaps the most important piece to Rapp’s outing was his ability to hold down the fort while the Eagles offense warmed themselves up. Given just a one-run lead heading into the bottom of the 4th, Rapp did everything he needed to do to protect it, holding the Eagles lead over another three innings of work. There are going to be days when the Eagles’ offensive output is limited, and this was exactly the type of pitching they will need out of their starters to continue to compete despite it.
The Birds would finally give themselves a bit more of a cushion with a productive 8th. After a scoreless 7th from Sean Hughes, BC would pick up a pair of runs off an RBI double for Baldelli and a sac fly from Alu. The 3-0 lead would be enough for the Eagles to get the win and take the series, despite the Broncos picking up their lone run in the bottom of the 8th off Zach Stromberg. Tommy Lane would come in for Stromberg with one out in the 8th and the bases loaded, snuffing out the lone Santa Clara threat of the day with an ice-water-in-the-veins performance, inducing a flyout and striking a man out to get out of the jam. He would K two more men in the 9th en route to a five-out save; the first save of his career. Lane finished the weekend with an impressive 4.2 innings of scoreless, hitless work, in which he allowed just one of the 15 batters he faced to reach.
Overall, it was a really solid opening weekend for the Eagles. Taking out one horrendous inning of work, the Eagles pitching staff allowed just eight runs over 26 innings, and got two shutout performances from their starters. There was a little bit left to be desired from the bats, who couldn’t take full advantage of a weak pitching staff at times. But in the end, they did enough to get two wins and be in a position to take a third while the pitching staff held a dangerously powerful lineup in check for most of the weekend. Plenty of big name guys stood out this weekend, and the team leaders showed themselves early, earning spots in Birdball Recall’s weekend all-stars section:
1st Star—No brainer here, has to be Brian Rapp. A career high 10 strikeouts earned him conference honors, being named ACC Pitcher of the Week. It was as lockdown a performance as you’re going to see, and his frugality with his pitches allowed him to get through the 6th on an opening weekend pitch limit. Between needing to pick up the offense, and rest a bullpen that was put through the ringer the day prior, Rapp did everything Coach Gambino could have asked from him on Sunday.
2nd Star—In almost any other weekend, a shutout, eight strikeout performance would earn Jacob Stevens top star honors, but he was bested by a career day from Rapp. This was exactly the Bear the Eagles faithful is dying to see this season, and one can only hope that we continue to see him each weekend.
3rd Star—Tommy Lane was intent to put the bad memories of a missed season behind him right from the jump. Lane was the best of all the relievers this weekend, and sitting down 14 of 15 batters against that Santa Clara lineup was no joke. Lane has serious talent, and it was refreshing to see him out on the bump again sporting the maroon and gold. I’d keep an eye on him to make a run at a starting job, likely in the midweek slot, but if not, he will certainly be among the best arms coming out of the pen for the Eags.
1st Star—Jake Palomaki did what team captains do and set the pace for the Eagles offense this weekend. Going 6-14 in the series, Mak scored four times, drove in six runs, and hit for a series cycle with a pair of doubles, a triple, and a homerun. Both the doubles and the triples came in a great day at the dish on Saturday, and helped the Eagles towards their best offensive outing despite the loss. Adding on his BC career-leading walk total with one in Sunday’s finale, Palomaki struck out just twice on the weekend and competed in each at-bat.
2nd Star—Dante Baldelli looks primed to make the biggest leap from his freshman to sophomore season on the team. After struggling in his rookie season on the Heights, Baldelli set out on a great pace, going 6-13 on the weekend, with a double, two runs scored, and four RBI. Mix in a walk and an HBP and Baldelli reached base more than half the time he came up, getting on after eight of his 15 ABs. Great weekend for the sophomore.
3rd Star—Despite hitting just .200 on the weekend, the 3rd star has to go to Jake Alu. Though he only tallied two hits, they were meaningful, with one being a homer. He also just put himself in good positions to get things done, driving in three runs and scoring three, as well, on the series. With a pair of walks, Alu found himself with a respectable .308 OBP and walks out of Santa Clara with the 3rd star honors.
BC is currently taking on the Red Sox down in Fort Meyers. That game can be found on NESN. After that, they will be headed to the Snowbird Classic for games with Minnesota, Indiana, and Rutgers. Look out for the second edition of Birdball Recall on the heels of this weekend!