INTERVIEW WITH ED BLANKMEYER
INTERVIEW WITH SEAN HAGAN
CLEARWATER, Fla. - Shortstop Joe Panik went 2-for-3, scored two runs and stole two bases as St. John's reached the semifinal round of the BIG EAST Championship with a 6-4 win against Pittsburgh Wednesday afternoon at Bright House Field.
With wins in their first two games of the tournament, the Red Storm enjoy an off day Friday and await the winner of an elimination game between Pittsburgh and Louisville. The Panthers and Cardinals will meet at 3 p.m. Friday, with the winner taking on St. John's Saturday at 10 a.m.
Catcher Kevan Smith and first baseman David Chester hit solo home runs for Pittsburgh, but those were the only extra-base hits of the day for the Panthers, who had three runners thrown out on the basepaths, including a play at the plate that would have tied the game in the eighth inning.
Pittsburgh held a 1-0 lead on Smith's third home run of the championship - and his 11th of the season. But St. John's countered with single runs in the third through seventh innings. The Red Storm got on the board when Jimmy Brennan scored from third on Jeremy Balltz's grounder to second and took a 2-1 lead on Brennan's RBI single to center.
Chester's BIG EAST-leading 16th home run of the year tied the game at 2-2, but the Red Storm reclaimed the lead in the top of the fifth when Baltz's base hit to left scored Panik, who had been hit by a pitch and reached third on a throwing error
Panik hit a two-out double in the top of the sixth and he came home on Matt Wessinger's base hit to give the Red Storm a 4-2 lead. St. John's used another two-out rally to get its fifth run when Joe Witkowski doubled home Kevin Grove, who had drawn a walk, making it 5-2.
Pittsburgh got two back in the bottom of the eighth as Phil Konieczny lef off with a base hit, took second on Zach Duggan's single to right and scored on Smith's base hit to right-center. Chester followed with an RBI single to bring Duggan home and make it 5-4, while a hit batsman loaded the bases with two out. St. John's got out of the jam when Smith was out trying to score on a ball that got past the catcher.
St. John's made it 6-4 in the top of the ninth when Paul Karmas and Grove hit back-to-back doubles, giving a two-run cushion for reliever Matt Carasiti, who worked a scoreless ninth to get his seven the save.
St. John's starter Sean Hagan allowed six hits and two runs with 10 strikeouts and no walks in seven innings, improving to 6-2. Panik, Wessinger, Karmas and Grove all had two hits for the Red Storm, who picked up their record 38th BIG EAST tournament win.
Pittsburgh's Corey Baker took the loss, falling to 5-4 after he allowed seven hits and three runs (two earned) in five innings. Baker struck out five and walked three. Smith, who hit .750 in last year's BIG EAST Championship, was 3-for-4 Wednesday and is 5-for-8 with three home runs in two tournament games.