May 23, 2014
Box: Xavier 8, St. John's 2
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
BROOKLYN, N.Y. - The way Xavier's trip to New York for the BIG EAST Baseball Tournament presented by New York Life has unfolded since it left Cincinnati on Tuesday - delayed flight, blown tire on the team bus, flooded hotel rooms and a decisive defeat to top-seeded Creighton - no one would have blamed them if the Musketeers huddled in their new hotel rooms - the dry ones - got in the fetal position and chanted "There's no place like home." Because really, what had gone right on this trip so far for Scott Googins' team?
Short answer? Nothing.
But all the obstacles and logistical nightmares now seem all well worth it after fourth-seeded Xavier posted a convincing 8-2 victory over St. John's Friday afternoon in an elimination game that not only extended the Musketeers season, but spelled the end for the second-seeded Johnnies (35-20).
And in a little ironic twist, one day after Xavier saw Creighton use a two-out, five-run rally to help knock out the Musketeers on Thursday, this time it was the X-Men who worked some two-out magic of their own as they scored all eight of their runs after two were out in each of the five innings they scored.
Talk about a reversal of fortune.
"We talked about it, that two-out hits win championships," Googins said. "When you get hits with two outs that's big. Their guy (St. John's starter Ryan McCormick) was throwing well but we were able to capitalize with a couple of big hits."
Xavier (27-27) pushed across single runs in both the first and second innings to take an early 2-0 lead. An RBI single by Derek Hasenbeck started the night off for Xavier before Joe Forney's single plated Mitch Elliott, who had stroked a two-out triple, for the Musketeers second run.
But the fun was just getting started for Xavier - and for Elliott.
The third inning saw the Musketeers put runners on the corners with two out when Stephen Schoettmer's single brought home Hasenbeck for a 3-0 lead. After Michael Moore walked to load the bases, Elliott brought everyone home when he scorched a double to right center and suddenly the X-Men were up 6-0.
"I feel like we've had all the pieces right there, we were just missing the middle piece to put it all together," said Elliott, who was 3-for-5 on the day. "But we were kind of on our heels a bit and we needed that win there. Each time we scored it was like another sparkplug."
With more than enough cushion to work with, Xavier starter Vinny Nittoli proceeded to dominate St. John's as he cruised through eight innings, allowing just six hits and one earned run.
"That was awesome," Nittoli said. "I was coming out there to try and set the tone, give them all my best stuff, and once we got that lead I was letting our defense work and letting (catcher Daniel) Rizzie call the game. I was just throwing right to him."
Nittoli and Rizzie's game of pitch-and-catch kept the Johnnies' bats at bay the rest of the game as they managed just a single run in the sixth inning - on a Matt Harris RBI double - and one in the eighth when Alex Caruso scored on an error. All in all, it was the perfect bounce back game for Musketeers.
"I was talking with (Xavier left fielder) Patrick Jones and we really weren't worried at all," said Elliott, a senior. "We've worked on handling the adversity we've had on the trip here. But I wasn't ready to play my last game. We got at least a couple of weeks left."
It was a surprising end for a St. John's team that had come into the tournament as one of the hotter teams in the conference, having won 15 of their previous 20 games. But the Johnnies managed to score just two runs in two games and that usually isn't a recipe for success.
"Very disappointing," St. John's coach Ed Blankmeyer said. "St. John's wins championships. That's what I told the kids. We work for championships. We're not satisfied with winning seasons. We want to win championships. We were positioned to win a championship but it's not necessarily the best team (that wins) but how well you play. Today was just not a good game for us. Our pitching wasn't good and we couldn't put anything together on offense."
It was a sentiment echoed by Red Storm right fielder Zach Lauricella.
"It's very disappointing," Lauricella said. "We came into the tournament as a confident team with what we had. But we ran into (Seton Hall starter Josh) Prevost (Thursday) and he shut us down pretty good and today was a major letdown for us. Very disappointing."
Not so for a Xavier team that will look to extend its stay in Brooklyn a bit longer when the Musketeers face either Seton Hall or Creighton Saturday at 4 p.m. (The Creighton-Seton Hall game scheduled for Friday night was postponed due to rain and will be made up Saturday at noon).
"It's awesome," Nittoli said. " Coming in, popping a tire on the highway and then getting to the hotel and someone flushed a shirt down the toilet, everything has been thrown at us and the way we've responded has been awesome. Getting this win is a big lift off our shoulders. I'm pretty excited for (Saturday). I think we're starting to click right now so we're going to give it our best shot."