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St. John’s fights to get above .500 after series against Creighton

The Johnnies, on a losing skid since a 7-0 start, closed the week 14-15 on the season.

baseball diamond by John Liu

Far removed from the easy wins brought by non-conference opponents, the Johnnies are entering crunch time and have to play each inning like it’s their last.

St. John’s has split a home series against second place Seton Hall, lost a home series against fourth place Xavier, lost a road series against first place Creighton (last week), and will welcome third place Connecticut this weekend. St. John’s needs wins in the second half of the season.

The Johnnies are on the outside looking in on the Big East Tournament as they enter the second half of their conference schedule. Production has simmered on both sides of the ball; but although the team is consistent in production, it falls just short of wins more often than not at 5-10 in Big East play.

If the Johnnies have any hope of salvaging the season, they’ll need a strong finish that runs through UConn, Butler, and Villanova who are third, fifth and last in the conference, respectively.

This weekend, the Red Storm have a big opportunity against the UConn Huskies for four games over the weekend.

Recapping last week (this week’s game against LaSalle was cancelled due to travel issues with the Explorers):

Game 1: St. John’s 1, Creighton 6 | W: Tebrake (6-0) L: Mondak (3-3)

The first game of the series began with a 1-2-3 top of the inning on a trio of ground balls for the visiting Johnnies followed immediately by a 4-run bottom of the first by the Blue Jays. The inning built an insurmountable lead against the Johnnies, but their one run later in the game would not have been enough to win unless the Red Storm shut out the league’s current top team.

The St. John’s bats fell painfully silent in the series opener, amassing only seven hits and a walk all game. RF Vinny Bianchi and 3B Marty Higgins had two and three hits respectively with Higgins recording the lone RBI of the game for the Johnnies, scoring Bianchi in the 7th. The individual successes of the duo were not enough to get the job done as the rest of the batters went 2/26 with a walk and two singles.

Nick Mondak started the game for the Johnnies on the mound and pitched five innings with no earned runs; however, he was on the mound to give up the Grand Slam after the Folz error.

Mondak’s final line read five innings, five hits, four runs, three walks, and a strikeout.

Josh Lajoie was the first to come on in relief of Mondak and pitched two innings giving up a hit and two earned runs in the process. Geoff Mosseau pitched the final inning for the Johnnies giving up only a walk in his four batters faced.

In the bottom half of the innings, St. John’s appeared formidable but fell mercy to a sequence of events following an error. 1B Justin Folz was charged with an error with the bases loaded for dropping a fly in foul territory in the 1st inning. Later in the at-bat, Creighton capitalized with a Grand Slam and four unearned runs charged to the Johnnies.

Aside from the anomaly of a Grand Slam, the Blue Jays played winning baseball in the series opener. Starting pitcher Dylan Tebrake struck out nine and only walked one in 8.1 innings pitched while the bullpen gave up no hits in final two outs of the game.

The Blue Jays scored all of their runs by way of the home run with a 2-run shot coming in the 6th inning to cap their scoring for the day.

Game 2: St. John’s 4, Creighton 11 | W: Smith (5-2) L: Cunningham (0-1)

After a loss in game 1, the Johnnies fought to stay above .500 for the first time all season. The team’s 7-0 start propelled them this deep into the season above .500, but their 7-14 record since puts them in a precarious situation they hardly envisioned at the time.

The Johnnies kicked off scoring with two run-producing at bats in the 3rd inning and two more in the 7th. While they were able to quadruple their run output from the first game, 11 unanswered Creighton runs in innings 4 through 6 handed the Johnnies another insurmountable lead.

The Red Storm team accumulated seven hits, two walks, and a hit batter, producing two more baserunners than the game before. RF Vinny Bianchi lead the team again with two hits, but this time he was joined by CF Ryan Hogan who had two hits of his own and two RBI in the game.

The St. John’s pitching held on to make the game competitive longer than the first game but the result was still the same. Starting pitcher Matt Semon pitched four innings and gave up two earned runs, both in the 4th inning.

Tim Cunningham, the game’s pitcher of record, entered in relief of Semon but gave up three runs in the process of recording only one out. Brandyn Cruz followed and gave up two unearned runs in an outing where he did not record and out. Nick Guzzi pitched the final five outs for the Johnnies and gave up two earned runs on three hits and three walks.

Creighton’s winning effort was highlighted by a 6-run 5th inning when the team batted through the order and then some. Creighton’s ability to rally officially dunked the Johnnies below .500 for the first time all season.

Game 3: St. John’s 4, Creighton 1 | W: Hendry (2-2) L: Lommel (3-2) S: Routzahn (5)

The Johnnies experienced a change of fate in their first game played all season under .500. Luck on defense and sequential hits on offense gave the Johnnies their first win of the series.

The team collected nine hits, more than any other game this series, and were led by 2B Carson Bartels and LF Brian Morrell with three and two hits respectively and an RBI single each. Six of the nine starters reached base successfully for the Johnnies all by way of a hit except for SS Jake Lazzaro who collected a hit and the only walk issued to St. John’s all game. The four runs were batted in by each of the four batters at the top of the order with 1B David Williams hitting a solo home run out of the four spot.

The Johnnies held their own on the other side of the ball thanks to a successful start from Brian Hendry who gave up seven hits in his 5.2 innings pitched and only one run and a walk. Hendry struck out 8 and was relieved by Joe Joe Rodriguez who recorded four strikeouts of his own in the following 2.1 innings.

Ethan Routzahn pitched the first 9th inning of the series for St. John’s and gave up a walk and recorded a strikeout in his inning to record the save.

Game 4: St. John’s 4, Creighton 11 | W: Bergstrom (1-0) L: Roche (0-2)

Despite recording four runs on nine hits for the second straight game, the Johnnies were unable to salvage game four for a series tie and instead settled for a 3-1 defeat.

Similar St. John’s production saw the nine hits come from seven different Johnnies and another managed to reach on only a walk.

LF Brian Morrell Lead the team with three hits for the second straight game but upped his RBI output to 3 for the final match of the series. The Johnnies jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the second inning after a Vinny Bianchi RBI single in the 1st and a 2-RBI single from Morrell in the 2nd. Following the run the Johnnies found themselves down by six after the Blue Jays put up 8 unanswered runs in the next 2 frames.

Tyler Roche got the nod for the Johnnies and started the final game against Creighton for the year. Roche pitch 2.2 innings gave up three hits and four earned runs (three of which came in the 3rd inning).

Josh Lajoie and Geoff Mosseau relieved Roche for .2 and 1.2 innings respectively. Lajoie conceded three runs and Mosseau gave up two more. Tim Cunningham finished the game for the Johnnies with three innings, giving up six hits and another two runs. Despite the outcome, the Johnnies were consistent in striking out batters as each pitcher recorded two, including Lajoie who accounted for 100% of his outs from the strikeout.