May 23, 2014
Box: #3 Seton Hall 1, #2 St. John's 0
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
BROOKLYN, N.Y. - It was every bit the marquee pitching matchup everyone expected between two of the conference's premier arms when Seton Hall's Josh Prevost and St. John's James Lomangino squared off in their contest Thursday night at the BIG EAST Baseball Tournament presented by New York Life.
And one week after Lomangino bested Prevost in a battle in South Orange, it was Prevost who came out on top this time around at MCU Park.
But just barely.
After cruising through eight innings with little resistance from St. John's hitters, Prevost worked his way out of a tight jam in the ninth before he got Bret Dennis to fly out with runners on the corners to quash St. John's rally and put the finishing touches on his 1-0, complete-game victory over the Johnnies.
The victory moves the Pirates (39-13) into Friday's winner's bracket game vs. top-seeded Creighton at 7 p.m. while St. John's (34-19) will face Xavier in an elimination game at 4 p.m. Friday.
"Josh likes to keep it interesting," Seton Hall head coach Rob Sheppard said after the nail-biting victory. "But we have all the confidence in the world that Josh was going to do the job and our defense played really well. Josh was efficient and he attacked the zone."
Except for maybe in that agita-inducing ninth inning.
The Pirates had taken a 1-0 lead in the second inning after an RBI double by Chris Selden knocked in D.J. Ruhlman with what would be the game's lone run. But as inning after inning went by the boards, Red Storm hitters had a hard time getting anything off Prevost, who allowed just three hits and no walks through the first eight innings.
But when Prevost walked Alex Caruso to start the bottom of the ninth, the collective stomach acid in the Pirates' dugout began to churn a little bit. The walk even led to a visit from Seton Hall pitching coach Phil Cundari and a mini-mound conference. So what was said?
"He said wipe that smirk off your face, that wasn't a strike" Prevost said. "He said to just keep battling and be aggressive like I'd been all game."
St. John's Jarred Mederos sacrificed Caruso to second and when pinch hitter Troy Dixon singled to right, the Johnnies had runners on first and third with one out and a golden opportunity to at least tie the game and force extra innings.
But Prevost was not about to have any of that.
He fanned Matt Harris for the second out before inducing Dennis to fly out to center to end the Johnnies' threat and the game as he celebrated behind the mound with a fist pump.
"I think I was just trying to aim the ball (in the ninth inning) instead of attacking like I had been all game," said Prevost, who logged his 12th victory of the season. "(Caruso) is a good leadoff hitter and I didn't want to leave anything over the plate. I was a little too picky. He had a good at bat and I just tried battling after that. And Bret Dennis is a very tough hitter. He got a couple off me the last time out so I couldn't take my foot off the gas pedal."
It was the first time all season that Seton Hall had won a game with just one run while also being the first time St. John's lost a game when allowing just one run.
So did Selden think his second-inning RBI would prove to be the game-winner?
"I was hoping," said Selden, who was 2-for-4 in the game. "It just seemed like Lomangino was settling in and he was getting a lot of guys out on his offspeed pitch. We had a couple of other opportunities where we just didn't execute with guys in scoring position and less than two outs. But you never think that's going to be the only run of the game."
It was the kind of nail-biting baseball that Sheppard tends to like.
"We scratched out a run early and both pitchers threw well," Sheppard said. "Josh did a really good job and their staff did a good job as well. This is clean baseball. This is more exciting. It's a little tough on your stomach but it's good baseball."
Lost in the frantic final minutes was the stellar performance turned in by Lomangino. The senior righty went 7 1/3 innings and allowed just the one run on four hits. He also struck out seven but left after throwing a career-high 122 pitches.
"Coach (Ed Blankmeyer) tried to take me out in the 7th inning but I wanted to go back out," Lomangino said. "I was giving the team a chance to hang around and maybe breakthrough but I knew I only had one batter left and I knew I was coming out after that batter."
But even in defeat Blankmeyer could appreciate the outstanding pitching duel turned in by Prevost and Lomangino.
"It was a great college baseball game by two great pitchers," Blankmeyer said. "I think James, on our end, made maybe one bad pitch. He bulldogged his way through a couple of innings and kept us right there. The Prevost kid just pitched well. We were chasing sliders. We just couldn't stay off of them. You got to give him credit. We had a couple of opportunities but we just couldn't get the hit. James outpitched him last time but I guess (Prevost) outpitched James this time. But not by much, not by much."
Now the Pirates will set their sights on Creighton with a chance to move into Sunday's championship game with a victory Friday night.
"We're excited to get an opportunity to play Creighton again," Sheppard said. "We talked about how this tournament is going to be a dogfight for everyone. We've seen some good baseball and we're going to continue to see it throughout the tournament."