SJU struggles after hot start

Missed opportunities haunted the St. John’s baseball team on Sunday as the Red Storm dropped its second game in two days to No. 2 North Carolina in the finals of the Coca-Cola Classic Championship in Rock Hill, S.C.

The No. 24 Red Storm was unable to cash in on the chances that the Tar Heels attempted to give it in the
4-2 loss.

“We played poorly,” head coach Ed Blankmeyer said. “We definitely didn’t play our better baseball out there.”

North Carolina jumped early on starting pitcher Ryan Cole. Cole surrendered two runs on an RBI single and a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first inning to the
Tar Heels.

St. John’s looked to rally in the top half of the second inning. Paul Karmas walked and Hopkins would later follow with a single. But the Johnnies would miss out on an opportunity for a big inning when Hopkins was picked off by UNC catcher Tim Federowicz. Gil Zayas then popped out to end the inning.

The Tar Heels tacked on another run in the third when Cole allowed back-to-back singles to put runners on first and third with no outs. But after a sacrifice fly gave UNC a 3-0 lead, Daniel Benedetti threw out Federowicz at second on a steal attempt. Cole then struck out Chad Flack to end the inning.

The offensive frustration would continue to mount for St. John’s in the top of the fourth inning. St. John’s managed to knock UNC starter Garrett Davis out of the game, but only after he recorded two strikeouts in the inning. With one man on, reliever Ryan Leach then walked Chris Anninos and Hopkins, but Leach rebounded and got Zayas to pop out to end the inning.
Cole was done after three innings of work and Blankmeyer turned to Matt Tosoni to keep the Red Storm in the game.

“Ryan did fine, we just decided to pull him early,” Blankmeyer said. “We just thought Tosoni was a better match up against them at that point.”

Tosoni allowed a single to open up the fourth that was quickly erased off a 6-4-3 double play.

“Matt’s unique and different in that he throws soft,” Blankmeyer said. “But he’s deceptive, uses different arm slots and can move the ball around to make batters uncomfortable.”

St. John’s finally broke through in the fifth inning when Michael Aicardi, who entered the game as a defensive placement, hit a two RBI single that scored Benedetti and Tom La Stella.

“It’s been a long week and Mike was fresh and ready to play,” Blankmeyer said. “He seized the opportunity [and] you need your bench guys to pick you up.”

Tosoni was lights out until the eighth inning, when he allowed a home run by Federowicz that gave UNC a 4-2 lead. The run was his first allowed in 13.1 innings this season.

“Our pitching definitely gave us the opportunity to win, offensively we didn’t take advantage of our chances,” Blankmeyer said. “But we played a top ranked team tough in its own backyard, maybe up here [in New York] the complexion of the game changes a little.”

The Johnnies hit its first bump in the road on Saturday in a losing effort against the North Carolina, 6-2.

Red Storm starter Scott Barnes struggled with his control in the first inning, walking two batters, which led to a two out, two RBI double by Kyle Seager. The lefty went five innings, allowing four runs on four hits and five walks.

The only offense for the Johnnies came in the form of a second inning two run double by Hopkins. After knocking UNC starter Rob Capatano out of the game in the fourth inning, the Johnnies managed just two hits against reliever Colin Bates.

They needed an extra inning, but the Red Storm came back to defeat Winthrop 3-2 on Friday off of a go ahead RBI single by Karmas in the top of the tenth. The 6-0 start is the team’s best since 1981, when the Johnnies opened the year 14-0.

Reliever Paul Gutsie earned the victory after tossing three shutout innings of relief, his first of the year, while Colin Lynch earned his third save of the season.