The Storm made its way to North Carolina this weekend, in more ways than one.
Inclement weather forced postponements of the St. John’s-Western Carolina showdowns scheduled for Friday and Saturday afternoon. The skies finally cleared on Sunday, and the Red Storm rode a rollercoaster to a doubleheader split.
With the forecast still murky, the front portion of the twin-bill was shortened to seven innings. Coach Ed Blankmeyer called on Sean Mooney to start, eager to get some innings out of his horse in case the skies didn’t hold for the full-length second game.
Memories of the offensive futility that plagued the Johnnies in their season-opening sweep were quickly subsided in the first. Third baseman Carson Bartels singled and came around to score on a Mitchell Henshaw single to right, the first of his three RBI over the two games. Sean McGeehan later added the Red Storm’s first home run of the season with a solo shot in the third. Just as they had in the opener against UCLA, the bats staked their ace with a pair of runs.
Mooney was money in the early going. After stranding a couple of runners in the first, he struck out four of his next seven batters. He finished the afternoon with seven punchouts to one walk.
The Catamounts dinked and dunked their way back into the game in the fourth. Catcher Luke Robinson doubled with one out in the inning, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on an Andrew Bullock base hit. Western Carolina strung together two more singles after that to chase Bullock home, and the game reset at 2-2.
St. John’s only had to stay out of the way to regain the lead in the fifth. Western Carolina starter Chase Walter walked McGeehan and Mike Antico to load the bases with one out. He handed the ball to reliever Zach Franklin, who allowed all three inherited runners to score. A walk sandwiched between fielding miscues and an RBI groundout invigoratingly gave the Johnnies a 5-2 lead. Nine outs separated them from their first trip to the win column.
Joe LaSorsa was asked to secure the final six. The lefty started in Los Angeles for the first time in his collegiate career, but was much more effective in his usual multi-inning bullpen role. He shut down the Catamounts in the sixth and seventh, racking up three strikeouts and his ninth career save. More importantly, he saved the rest of the bullpen from exhaustion with nine more innings still on the agenda.
Game two started innocently enough. It was a classic back-and-forth affair for the first seven frames. McGeehan blasted another homer in the second, and one more for good measure in the sixth. The JUCO transfer, moved from eighth in the order to fourth for the nightcap, finished the day with four hits, three of which cleared the fences.
Junior left-hander Jeff Belge had the ball to start. Sunday wasn’t any kinder than his rocky season debut. Justice Bigbie beat him with a longball to give Western Carolina the lead in the third, but Belge’s problems were mostly of his own creation. He walked three and threw a pair of wild pitches, one of which plated a run. Blankmeyer let him surrender a single before pulling him with nobody out in the fourth. His early-season ERA sits at an unsightly 12.00.
Fordham transfer Ben Greenberg was fine in relief after a homer to the first batter he faced. He allowed just the one hit over three innings. Righty Joe Kelly and lefty Turner French played the matchups to piece together the seventh inning. The Catamounts clung to a 5-4 lead headed to the fateful eighth.
A late game meltdown did a number for the second straight Sunday. Western Carolina sent 14 men to the plate in the penultimate frame. Eight of them made it back around to score. The Johnnies needed four pitchers to record three outs. The small sample size ERAs are ugly.
The Catamounts took the second game, 13-4. St. John’s is 1-4, their worst start since a six-game February losing streak in 2014.
Sunnier San Diego awaits next weekend. The Johnnies head west for seven games, starting at 9pm on Friday night.