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St. John’s falls short in quest for first place

By Joseph Staszewski

SOUTH ORANGE — St. John’s didn’t help itself enough and didn’t receive the outside assistance it needed to win a Big East regular season baseball title.

The Red Storm took the first two games of a weekend series against host Seton Hall, but errors, lack of clutch hitting and a short outing from starter Chris Kalica prevented the Johnnies from completing the sweep and earning at least a share of the crown.

Seton Hall held off St. John’s 5-4 in the series finale and second game of the double header Saturday. The Johnnies won the first two games by scores of 7-3 and 4-3.

“They didn’t beat us,” St. John’s Coach Ed Blankmeyer said. “We beat ourselves today.”

His club needed to sweep the Pirates (38-13, 11-7) and hope league-leading Creighton lost two of three to host Xavier. The Bluejays were on the verge of doing so before rallying from a 3-1 deficit in the seventh to eventually win 5-4 in 12 innings.

St. John’s (35-18, 13-5) earned the No. 2 seed in the Big East tournament, which it started by facing No. 3 Seton Hall last Thursday night at MCU Park in Coney Island.

“It’s tough to come in here and win three games,” Blankmeyer said.

St. John’s, which committed four errors in the final game, couldn’t overcome Seton Hall’s four runs scored in the opening frame against Kalica, who lasted just two-thirds of an inning.

The Pirates added their second unearned run of the game in the second inning to make it 5–1, but SJU reliever Matt Hennie was stellar after that. The red shirt-sophomore used his off-speed pitches to keep Seton Hall batters off balance. He allowed just one unearned run on five hits in a career-high six innings of work.

“It’s the best way to get ahead in the count for me,” Hennie said of his off-speed pitches.

His performance gave St. John’s a chance to get back in the game, but the Johnnies couldn’t manage more than single runs in the fifth, seventh and eighth. Twice double plays kept them from a big frame. The Johnnies did get a big series from freshman third baseman Robbie Knightes, who was 7-for-10 in the three games.

“I’m just sticking with my approach pretty much, just being myself, being aggressive,” Knightes said.

Aggressiveness may have hurt St. John’s, down 5-4 in the eighth. With a run already in on an outfield error, Zach Lauricella tried to go all the way to third on an overthrow of home, but was tagged out for the second out. The throw from reliever Joe DiBenedetto beat Lauricella to the bag, but Blankmeyer believed Lauricella got in before the tag. The coach vehemently argued the call, but was ejected from the game.

“He was safe,” Blankmeyer said. “Bad angle. Bad call.”

The defeat left a bad taste in the players’ mouths after what was on the whole a successful weekend.

“That first inning hurt us a little bit, but we batted back pretty hard,” Knightes said. “The pitchers picked us up and we have to pick them up, too.”

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