Baseball wins series over Pirates, takes control of Big East

Brandon Mauk, Digital Sports Manager

Troy Dixon (r.) hit his first career home run on Saturday to lead the Johnnies to a 7-4 win over Seton Hall. Photo by: Diana Colapietro, Torch Photo Editor

St. John’s baseball was favored in the preseason to win the Big East, and they took a positive step in the biggest series of the year to date.

The Red Storm (18-12, 5-1) and Seton Hall (17-12, 4-2) came into last weekend’s conference matchup tied for first in the Big East, and the Johnnies managed to win two out of three at Jack Kaiser Stadium. They have won 12 of their last 16 games, mostly thanks to a red-hot offense.

“We’re starting to swing the bat better. That’s certainly helped us. I thought we could hit a lot in situations better,” St. John’s head coach Ed Blankmeyer said. “We need to have continuity throughout our lineup. We have some holes in it. When the weather warms up, we’ll get better. We have some guys still struggling.”

Cody Stashak powered the Johnnies to a 5-1 victory on Friday. Seton Hall’s Zack Weigel led off the game with a triple and scored on an error by RF Zach Lauricella, but Stashak shut the door afterwards.

“Yeah, it kind of made me mad. I went out, just trying to get them out,” Stashak said. “I got that mean attitude and just went out and showed it. I try to go out every time like that. Throw strikes and get outs.”

He pitched six innings and allowed just the one run on four hits, walked one and struck out five to collect his fifth win of the season. The junior college transfer’s ERA now sits at 3.04, which ranks second in the Big East among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched.

Alex Caruso was the driving force for the Johnnies and regularly set up the table, as he has all season. He went 6-for-10 at the plate and scored six times. He leads the Big East in hitting at .372.

“It’s just sticking with my routine that I do every game,” he said. “Sticking with the process, just trying to go up there and working at-bat to lead off the game for the team.”

Saturday was all about sophomore designated hitter Troy Dixon. He went 3-for-4 with a triple, a home run and five RBI. The home run was the first of his college career, a three-run shot in the third inning that put St. John’s up 5-1.

“I know I hit it good and I was happy because I hadn’t hit a college home run yet,” he said. “I was just looking to get the guys in from second and third and just did the job.”

Dixon tripled home another run in the seventh, as St. John’s won 7-4. Dixon is one example of the emergence of the bottom of the order, as they have helped the offense average 4.63 runs per game since March 15.

Seton Hall was able to salvage the series on Sunday and avoid the sweep. The Pirates scored seven runs in the fourth inning on just three hits, as St. John’s walked home three batters and hit two batters with the bases loaded. Seton Hall won 19-4, as the normally efficient St. John’s defense committed three errors and the pitching surrendered 12 walks.

“We couldn’t throw strikes. Our pitching was bad. Didn’t pitch, you won’t win. Period. They couldn’t command secondary pitches,”  coach Blankmeyer said. “We’ve just got to move on. A game like this is so bad. They say you’re never as good as you think you are, well you’re never as bad as you think.”

St. John’s will look to regroup against Princeton for a night game at Jack Kaiser Stadium on Wednesday. They  have another important conference series this weekend at Creighton. The Blue Jays are also 5-1 in Big East play after sweeping Xavier.