Weekend Spotlight: St. John’sWeekend Spotlight
CHAPEL HILL, NC — A year ago, St. John’s snuck up on the college baseball world — just a little bit. Coming off a 28-26 season in 2016, the Johnnies burst onto the national scene with a 9-0 start that was highlighted by a midweek win at North Carolina, and they spent the entire rest of the season in the Top 25, en route to a 42-13 campaign and a regional berth.
St. John’s isn’t sneaking up on anybody this time around. The composition of the roster is a bit different — last year’s club had a very experienced lineup and some unproven pieces on the mound heading into the season, while this year’s club is the opposite — but St. John’s still loaded with experienced, winning ballplayers, and it is the clear-cut team to beat in the Big East.
And for the second year in a row, the Red Storm has gotten off to a strong start, beating sixth-rank UNC on the road once again to remain undefeated (4-0) heading into a tournament against Monmouth, UMBC and Penn State in Cary, N.C. So far, sublime pitching has carried St. John’s, which has allowed just four runs total in four games, after shutting down Campbell in a road sweep this past weekend.
“The interesting thing is last year it was a veteran position player team with young pitching. This year the pitching is more experienced, and we have about four guys that are getting an opportunity to play in our program (in the lineup) that we don’t know about,” St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer said after Wednesday’s 5-2 win against the Tar Heels. “So I think we’re really a work in progress offensively. We’re trying to find ourself. And we need some help pitching-wise so we don’t go to the well too much at the end of the game.”
The win against UNC could wind up being a gold star on St. John’s postseason resume, because the Heels are much better than they have shown during their 2-3 start. The Tar Heels actually out-hit the Johnnies 10-8 on Wednesday, but five St. John’s pitchers were able to make big pitches in big spots, and the Red Storm came up with some big hits in a three-run seventh inning to break a 2-2 tie. The top six hitters in the St. John’s lineup are very good, established veterans hitters, but the seventh-inning rally started in the lower third of lineup where St. John’s is relying on less proven players.