May 21, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Maybe Xavier has gotten all of its bad karma out of the way before the first pitch of the BIG EAST Baseball Tournament presented by New York Life is even tossed. At least the Musketeers hope it’s out of the way.
The fourth-seeded Musketeers (26-26, 8-10 BIG EAST) began their sojourn from Cincinnati to Brooklyn on Tuesday but it didn’t take long before they realized it would be no routine jaunt to the Big Apple.
We’ll let senior righthander Scott Klever fill you in.
“We left Xavier (Tuesday) around 1 o’clock and got to the airport in Kentucky and all was pretty normal,” said Klever, who will get the start for the Musketeers in their opening game against top-seeded Creighton Thursday at 4 p.m. at MCU Park.
“We got on the plane and it was our first flight this year so everyone was excited and when we got to Newark we saw the big Xavier bus coming in to pick us up and everyone was all excited. But after about 10 minutes on the road we all hear a loud pop and our tire split. It was kind of scary for a while. We drove across the George Washington Bridge with our popped tire and we got off at the first exit in the Bronx and that’s where we got our tire changed. We were pulled off to the side of the road and sat there for a few hours waiting for something to happen. Then we went to the hotel we were supposed to stay at, a Holiday Inn Express, but when we got there somebody had flushed a tee shirt down the toilet and flooded the whole floor we were supposed to be on so we had to change hotels and we didn’t get to our new one until about midnight.
"It was crazy.”
Yes, if it could have gone wrong for Xavier on Tuesday, it did. But now the X-men have put Tuesday in the rearview mirror and are totally focused on Thursday and their battle with No. 1 Creighton.
“I’m excited to be here in New York,” Klever said. “I know it’s a big stage, the BIG EAST. We’re in a minor league park and it’s a pretty big stage and I’m excited to play.”
Xavier coach Scott Googins said the travel day from hell is all in the past.
“We got here. We just got to keep a positive attitude. We’re doing all right,” said Googins, whose team is playing in the BIG EAST tournament in its first season in the conference. “It really is a big deal for us. Our goal was to win (the regular season title) and get in the tournament. We didn’t accomplish winning it but we did get in the tournament and I think it’s big for us.”
Creighton, the tournament’s top seed which comes in with a 30-16-1 mark and a conference-best 14-4 mark, had no such travel adventurers, though head coach Ed Servais was a little vague on where his team is staying.
“I don’t know where it is,” Servais said. “I don’t really know where Manhattan ends and Brooklyn begins.”
What Servais and the rest of the Bluejays do know is they will forever be the first team on their Omaha campus to lay claim to a BIG EAST title.
“That was our main focus all year,” said Creighton’s Reagan Fowler, the BIG EAST Co-Player of the Year. “We knew if we put our work in we’d have a shot and we accomplished our first task. So we’re looking for a big week this week.”
Before his Xavier team readies for battle, Googins took a little time to take in the tournament’s home site in Coney Island.
“I love it. This is awesome,” Googis said. “I’m really excited about this. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this park. I’d never been to Coney Island either so we’re seeing a little history, too. This is really cool. Some of our guys have never been to New York.”
The two teams met last weekend to close out the regular season with Creighton taking two-of-three to clinch the regular-season crown.
“We know each other and we know tendencies and what to expect a little bit,” Fowler said. “But it’s going to be tough just coming right off that last emotional series. It’s going to be a big game.”
In the nightcap of Thursday’s doubleheader, No. 2 St. John’s (35-18, 13-5 BIG EAST) will also be facing a team it closed out the season with when the Red Storm meet No. 3 seed Seton Hall (38-13, 11-7 BIG EAST). It will also be a rematch of a marquee pitching duel between St. John’s senior righty James Lomangino and the Pirates’ senior righthander Josh Prevost, the BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year.
“It’s the most fun time of year,” Prevost said after his workout Thursday at MCU Park.
But the 6-8 righty with the 11-2 record and tiny 1.76 ERA suffered a rare setback in last weekend’s meeting with the Johnnies with Lomangino going six innings and allowing just two hits and two runs in six innings to grab the win.
“I don’t like to lose,” Prevost said. “But they have a very talented lineup so I’m not going to take that for granted. I’m just going to try and stay within myself and throw a lot of strikes.”
Seton Hall coach Rob Sheppard said he feels his senior will learn from last week’s loss.
“He understands,” Sheppard said. “He’s a senior and this senior class has been to the conference tournament every year and he knows what’s it’s about. He wants to compete. He’s ready to go. He’ll use (last week’s loss). He won’t blow it off. I think he understands what happened last time, he’ll learn from it and he’ll use it to be better this time.”
For Lomangino, last week’s gem against The Hall served as a huge lift for the Johnnies senior.
“It was definitely a confidence booster for me,” said Lomangino, who will bring a 6-4 record and a 3.86 ERA into Thursday’s showdown. “I’ve had some trouble with Seton Hall in the past two or three years. They’ve actually hit me around pretty good so for me to go out there and throw pretty well against them was definitely a big confidence booster coming into this tournament.”
But Lomangino is not looking at Thursday’s game as a personal mission against Prevost.
“I don’t look at it as me vs. him, I look at it as us vs. them,” Lomangino said. “And as long as I’m in the game and I give my team a chance to win, that’s my only job, not to beat him.”
St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer thinks the fact that his Johnnies came up a game shy of winning the regular-season title will make his team that much hungrier to claim the tournament crown.
“Sure, it does,” Blankmeyer said. “It doesn’t leave a good taste in your mouth to fall a game short. But we’re ready to play and the bottom line here is who plays the best, not necessarily who is the best team is coming into the tournament.”