By Dylan Butler
On any other day, St. John’s baseball coach Ed Blankmeyer said, it would have been a simple fly ball to right center field.
On any other day, the wind — which gusted to 37 mph Monday — would have been swirling instead of blowing from left to right.
But it was just one of those days for Red Storm freshman centerfielder Greg Thomson, who belted a leadoff home run in the third inning and followed with an RBI-double in the right-center field gap in the fifth to lead St. John’s to an 8-3 win over Big East rival Pittsburgh at The Ballpark at St. John’s.
The win, which improved St. John’s record to 8-0 at home, completes a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh. It is the first time the Johnnies have swept a Big East foe since taking three from the Panthers in 1999.
“I hit it pretty good,” Thomson said of Pittsburgh starter Joe Engel’s inside fastball that resulted in his first collegiate home run. “But I had no idea it would go that far.”
After giving up a leadoff walk, Jim Wladyka (1-2) retired 15 of the next 16 batters to pick up his first win of the year. The sophomore righty went 6.2 innings, allowing one seventh-inning run on five hits while striking out a career-high eight with just one walk.
“At the beginning Jim struggled with his fastball, but he’s a damage-control guy,” Blankmeyer said. “He figured it out, he competes and he finds a way to get outs. In the third, fourth and fifth he threw the ball pretty good.”
Leading 3-0, St. John’s (12-12, 3-0) broke the game open in the sixth inning, as Jesus Bravo drove in Jim Martin, who walked, stole second and reached third on an error to reliever Jeff Barnyak — one of the Panthers’ four errors — and Anthony DeRosa scored on a Barnyak wild pitch to put the Red Storm in front, 5-0.
Barnyak replaced Engel, who was solid through four innings but struggled in the fifth inning to fall to 2-2. Engel went 4.2 innings, allowing three earned runs on three hits while striking out six and walking two.
After Pittsburgh (18-8, 2-4) spoiled Wladyka’s shutout bid when Scott Folmer drove in Michael Bell with an RBI-single to left field, the Red Storm went up 7-1 in the bottom of the inning as Mike Rozema scored on an error to catcher Alex Rybczak and Jim Martin’s single to right field scored Derek Sullivan.
“Offensively, we’re not even at the cutting edge of where we should be,” Blankmeyer said. “But we’re catching the ball pretty good and pitching pretty good, which is what you have to do to win in this ballpark.”
St. John’s 4, Pittsburgh 1. Junior Drew Jackson hit a bases-loaded double, driving in three runs in the fifth inning, and junior Joe Reid (2-1) went 6.1 innings, allowing one run on eight hits with nine strikeouts in the Red Storm’s Big East opener Saturday. Freshman Craig Hansen recorded the final two outs of the game with runners on first and third for his second save of the year.
Nick Evangelista, the Big East Pitcher of the Week, dropped to 5-2 for Pittsburgh, allowing four runs — three earned — on seven hits in five innings.
St. John’s 7, Pittsburgh 1. Jesus Bravo went 2-for-4 with two runs scored, Mike Rozema and Derek Sullivan added two singles apiece for the Red Storm in the nightcap of the doubleheader. Freshman Anthony Varvano improved to 2-2, allowing one unearned run on five hits while striking out eight in six innings for the Red Storm. Greg Holmes threw three innings of one-hit ball to earn his first save of the year.
Don Rhoten dropped to 2-2, allowing three earned runs on five hits while walking four in five innings for the Panthers.
After weekday games against Delaware State, St. Francis (N.Y.) and Pace, the Red Storm resumes Big East action Friday at noon with a doubleheader against Connecticut (12-8, 5-0) before hosting conference leaders No. 24 Notre Dame (16-6, 5-1) Sunday at noon in another doubleheader.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by email at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.