By Dylan Butler
The sophomore pitcher, whose mother died of a heroin overdose when he was 15, was overcome with emotion before the Red Storm's Mother's Day game against Notre Dame at the Ballpark at St. John's. While the rest of his teammates were joined on the field by their mothers, Sullivan, who was born in Rego Park but raised in Arlington, Mass., hugged his Aunt Lisa and grandmother.After the game Sullivan was again hugging the two, who have served as surrogate mothers to the hard-throwing righty, after helping to lead the Red Storm to a 3-1 win over the Fighting Irish.Sullivan gave up just 1 unearned run on 3 hits, striking out 4 with 4 walks and Craig Hansen came in and closed the door, earning a Big East record 13th career save in two innings of 1-hit ball for the Red Storm, which swept a 3-game set from Notre Dame for the first time since the Irish joined the Big East 11 years ago.St. John's, winners of 24 of their last 28, improved to 33-13 and 16-4 in the Big East and inched ever closer to clinching their first conference regular season championship since 1992. The Johnnies are also ranked No. 25 by Baseball America, its highest ranking in 23 years.”I call it tough love. I know he has the ability,” St. John's coach Ed Blankmeyer said of Sullivan. “We gave him a couple of non-conference starts and he showed me some maturity and Rob Delaney wasn't throwing as well as we thought he should be so we put him out there. We gave him a chance and that's the way it works here.”Sullivan, who replaced Rob Delaney as the No. 3 Big East starter last week and tossed seven shutout innings in an 11-1 win over Rutgers May 2, improved to 5-2. Sullivan, who lost contact with his father at the age of 11 after four undercover Boston police officers stormed into their apartment to arrest him and whose younger brother Joseph died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, had a lot on his mind Sunday. He shook off three first inning walks against a Notre Dame team that pounded him a year ago in one inning and thought of his mother when Steve Andres' long blast down the right field line in the sixth inning trailed foul.”I tell you, my mom was shining down because when I saw that ball hit by the lefty, I know she was out there blowing on it,” Sullivan said. “I have to say thank you to her.”Catcher Joe Burke was the hero offensively Sunday, driving in all three RBI – including a clutch 2-out, 2-run bloop into short center field in the seventh inning.”That was luck right there,” Burke said. “I didn't have a good swing on it, so I'm just lucky it fell and helped the team win.”Burke was just one of several players to come up big for the Red Storm over the weekend. First baseman Chris Joachim had the game-winning hit in a 6-5 come-from-behind victory Saturday night, when he hit Ryan Doherty's 1-1 slider into right-center field, scoring Greg Thomson in the 10th inning. Joachim also brought the Johnnies to within 5-4 with a 2-out, 2-run single to right in the eighth inning.In the opening game Anthony Smith broke a 2-all tie with a mammoth solo home run over the St. John's bullpen in right in the fourth inning to help lift the Red Storm to a 3-2 win Saturday afternoon. “We know we have great players on the team,” Burke said. “Sooner or later we're going to break through and someone is going to come through with the big hit.”St. John's also received stellar pitching throughout the nationally televised 3-game series. In the opener Anthony Varvaro wasn't sharp, walking 5 in seven innings, but he battled and only allowed 2 runs – 1 earned – on 3 hits to improve to 8-2.In the nightcap Saturday, Jim Wladyka was roughed up for 5 runs on 6 hits in 5.1 innings, but walk-on James Lally out of Bellerose pitched a perfect 2.2 innings to keep the Storm in the game before Hansen picked up his second win of the year, pitching a scoreless 10th inning. The highly touted, hard-throwing Hansen, who was named Big East Pitcher of the Week, threw a total of 6 innings of 1-hit ball with a win and two saves.St. John's pitchers – especially Hansen – shut down Notre Dame slugger Matt Edwards, who leads the Big East in four offensive categories, including home runs and RBI. Edwards, who was struck out twice by Hansen Saturday on a total of six pitches, was 0-for-9 with 4 walks.”I didn't even know anything about that guy,” Hansen said. “We have scouting reports, but I don't even look at them. I just pitch to my strengths and not to their weaknesses.”Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.