The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Enter San Man

The most important pitcher in the St. John’s baseball team’s weekend sweep of Cincinnati wasn’t Friday’s starter, Kyle Hansen, nor was it Kevin Kilpatrick or Brendan Lobban, who started the other two games for the Red Storm.

It was junior pitcher Stephen Rivera, who threw 3 2/3 innings in the series and didn’t allow a run in his two relief appearances. In eight outings this season, opponents are batting .219 against him. Sure, Hansen threw seven innings of one-run ball, a performance that earned the sophomore right-hander a spot on the Big East Honor Roll, but it was Rivera who played the stopper in preserving his two-run lead to closer Matt Carasiti.

In Rivera’s next appearance, he struck out two of the first three batters he faced and retired the side in both of his innings, extending a tied game into extra innings for the Red Storm.

Rivera’s last bad outing came on March 12, when he threw 3 2/3 innings in relief of Sean Hagen against Gardner-Webb and allowed five runs on five hits and walked four.

That, coincidentally, was the Red Storm’s last loss before going on a seven-game winning streak, one that snapped on March 29 with a loss at LIU. As St. John’s peaked, so too did Rivera, because in his next outing, the right-hander struck out four and allowed just two base runners in three innings.

And that’s good news, considering the team rode that winning streak into its sweep of Cincinnati—its first series, mind you, of conference play. After that rocky four-game losing streak the team endured upon going to North Carolina back in early March, the Red Storm have been playing their best baseball just in time for early Big East play.

Rivera broke out as a sophomore in 2010, making 24 appearances as a sophomore in 2010, allowing 16 runs in 40 innings of work. Despite a fairly deep bullpen, especially late in the season,

Rivera’s dependable outings provided the bridge to Daniel Burawa and Ryan Cole. That stability helped the Red Storm win four games in five days en route to the conference tournament championship.

Rivera’s recent dependability in 2011 is creating room for other relievers to improve as the season goes along, as head coach Ed Blankmeyer can look to other relievers in less pressurized situations to become just as dominant.

“We’ve been playing good baseball,” Blankmeyer said. “But you can play good baseball and still lose. I’d like for us to win and still be improving as a ball club.”

While fellow junior Eddie Medina threw the middle game of the series against Cincinnati—the Red Storm had a four-run lead when he entered—he has a 4.72 ERA in 13 1/3 innings this season. With Rivera succeeding in tight spots, Medina can regain his confidence without having to do so with the game hanging in the balance.

And the more good arms the Red Storm can regularly utilize, the better off they’ll be as conference play unfolds. In 24 regular season conference games last year, the Red Storm allowed 6.2 runs per game while scoring 6.4. Twelve of those games were decided by three runs or less.

Assuming that trend continues this year—two of the Cincinnati games were each decided by one run—it is crucial for the Red Storm to continue getting good performances out of as many pitchers as possible. And that all starts with Rivera entering in relief.

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