It's fair to say at the start of the 2013 season St. John's (1-10) have yet to play the baseball they played last season in their NCAA Tournament run.
The team looked to jump start themselves against No. 1 North Carolina on Thursday after losing two of three against No. 20 Georgia Tech - it didn't go the way they would have liked.
In the one-game series, the Tar Heels toppled the Red Storm 18-5, cracking the game open in the bottom of the second-inning with a nine-run parade.
St. John's used three pitchers in the second. Freshman Alex Katz started the game. He was solid in the first, but scuffled in the second, only going 1.1 innings giving up four earned runs before being pulled. Freshman Anthony Rosati came in to relieve Katz... but ended up giving four earned runs as well in 0.1 innings of work. He was pulled for yet another freshman, Matt Clancy who surrendered one run before getting out of the inning.
North Carolina exploded for seven runs in the sixth-inning to put the game away and take a 18-2 lead. St. John's added three runs in the top of the seventh but that wouldn't be enough to start a the monumental rally needed to tie the game against the top-ranked Tar Heels.
Martin Kelly continued his strong campaign going 3-for-4 with two runs scored, raising his average to .421 on the season.
St. John's headed to East Carolina University for a three-game series where they would be swept easily by ECU.
In game one, the ECU Pirates won 6-3 scoring four of their six runs in the first three innings. St. John's, meanwhile, left 10-men stranded which ended up being the story of the game. Junior James Lomangino got roughed up for eight hits and allowed all the runs scored.
The one bright spot for the Red Storm was red shirt freshman Ryan Horstman, who came in relief of Lomangino, three 3.1 scoreless innings, striking out four Pirate batters.
In game two, ECU exploded for a five-run sixth inning after St. John's starter, senior Sean Hagan, was the latest of the Red Storm pitchers to be banged up by hot opposing team bats.
Martin Kelly collected three hits in four at-bats to lead St. John's batting once again. But the team left five-men stranded as they fell 8-1.
In game three was more of the same. ECU scored five runs in a big second-inning to put a gap between them and St. John's. St. John's was held to just four hits and three RBI.
Freshman Ryan McCormick took the loss for the Red Storm after going 4.2 innings and giving up five earned runs.
Kelly went 2-for-3 with an RBI. Senior Jimmy Brennan pinched hit going 1-for-2 to add another RBI for the Red Storm but again, the Storm would be no match for ECU.
St. John's has a five day layoff before continuing their down South tour this time against Radford University, in Virginia.
Projected starting lineup for the Highlanders (5-5):
Josh Gardiner (2B): .289 avg 7 R 3 RBI
Alexander Lee (1B): .241 avg 3 R 2 RBI
Jeff Kemp (SS): .344 avg 4 HR 11 RBI
Ryan Burgess (DH): .280 avg 1 HR 7 RBI
Patrick Marshall (LF): .200 avg 2 R 1 RBI
Hunter Higgerson (3B): .143 avg 3 R 1 RBI
Josh Reavis (C): .250 5 R 4 RBI
Chris Coia (CF): .364 avg 7 R 2 RBI
Blake Sipe (RF): .143 avg 2 R
The Highlanders will be one of the teams St. John's can look to start their hot-streak against. Only two batters hit over .300 while five of their batters are batting under/exactly .250. The young pitching will be tested, but against easier, unranked competition.
Radford plays James Madison this week, and is coming off of a three-game sweep at the hands of Rider.
RU's team ERA of 6.38 against softer competition is close to St. John's 7.07 ERA; all the signs of a competitive and possibly favorable series for the Red Storm is there.
It will all depend on how the young pitchers (and hitters) do for St. John's moving forward.
Game one is scheduled for a 4 p.m. start on Friday, March 8th. After the Radford series, the Johnnies come home to play regional competition.