By Joseph Staszewski
St. John’s continually found solutions to any problems it faced during its run to the Big East baseball crown.
The team knew another was needed quickly after Creighton scored five runs in the seventh inning of the conference championship game, tying the score after the Red Storm had been in full control. But the St. John’s players spoke back, and wasted no time producing a response.
“For them to come back with those five runs was a pretty low blow,” said tournament MVP Alex Caruso. “We had a meeting in the dugout and said let’s just continue to do what we have been doing and push a run across here.”
Matt Harris gave St. John’s the lead for good with an RBI single in the bottom of the frame and Robert Wayman’s two-run double in the eighth was just enough insurance. The top-seeded Red Storm held off No. 2 Creighton 8-7 to win its first Big East Tournament crown since 2012 and its 15th straight game on May 24 in Omaha, Neb.
It’s just the second time in program history St. John’s won both the regular season and tournament titles. Also, the 15-game winning streak is the longest the Red Storm has had since 1977.
“We found a way to win,” SJU coach Ed Blankmeyer said. “That’s the way it’s been all season long for us.”
Johnnies ace Ryan McCormick, who threw 101 pitches in a complete game win over Creighton the day before, asked to come on in the ninth inning to get the game’s final three outs with runners on second and third and no one retired. The junior immediately gave up an RBI single.
A double play brought home a second run to make it 8-7 before McCormack got a ground out to short to end the game. It was McCormick’s first relief appearance since St. John’s beat St. Peter’s in late March and the first save of his college career.
“When I was running onto the mound, I was just really excited,” McCormick said. “I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I was just trying to throw strikes.”
St. John’s (39-14) advances to the NCAA tournament. It is the No. 4 seed in the Stillwater Regional. SJU opens against host Oklahoma State on Friday at 7 p.m. The Red Storm head there on a hot streak, with plenty of confidence in they way they are playing.
“We are rolling right now,” Caruso said. “Everything is clicking. The pitching wasn’t there today, but the hitting backed it up. When the hit is not there, we have the pitching to back it up.”
It looked as if the Red Storm was going to waltz into the Big Dance after starter Chris Kalica tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just four hits. Zach Lauricella delivered the big blow with a bases-clearing triple in the third. Harris added an sac fly and St. John’s led 4-0.
The Johnnies made it 5-0 on a Caruso double in the fifth. Creighton (32-19) got a run off reliever Matt Clancy in the bottom of the inning and then stormed back in the seventh with four runs off SJU closer Thomas Hackimer.
Joe Kuzia picked up the win in relief. Wayman went 3-for-3 with two RBI and Caruso was 1-for-2 with three walks and two runs scored. They each helped St. John’s to continually answer for each Creighton charge. The Red Storm plans on continuing their push forward.
“This is a special team,” Lauricella said.” We can make a splash in the regional for sure. We’ve got everything going right now.”