By Laura Amato
They just couldn’t get their swing right.
The St. John’s baseball team watched one of its most successful seasons in program history come to an end Saturday, falling 3-1 to UNC Greensboro in the first elimination game of the Clemson Regional.
The Red Storm fell to Vanderbilt 13-4 in the NCAA Tournament opener the previous day.
“I just wish we could have played better,” St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer said. “We struggled in our tournament, and we struggled here, and we just didn’t play good baseball at times. Not for lack of effort, but somewhere along the lines, we lost our edge.”
The Red Storm struggled to find consistency on either side of the ball in both posteason matchups, surrendering a two-run lead in the fifth inning against Vanderbilt as the Commodores exploded for 12 runs in the final innings.
Vanderbilt racked up 18 hits on the day, the highest total for a St. John’s opponent this season. Only two of those shots, however, were extra base hits. Sean Mooney took the loss on the mound, giving up a season-high six earned runs in just four innings of work.
“It was a good ball game until the fifth,” Blankmeyer said. “After that, I think the wheels fell off the bus. A lot of hits, we couldn’t stop the bleeding. It’s not like they were punishing the baseball, just everything they hit found grass.”
Things didn’t get much better for St. John’s in the second game, despite a stellar effort from starting pitcher Kevin Magee. The southpaw settled into a rhythm after a shaky start, setting new career-highs in strikeouts (eight), innings pitched (7.0) and pitches (101). He gave up just two runs on five hits, keeping the Spartans off the board for five innings and retired 15 straight UNCG batters from the second inning through the seventh.
“The first inning, I think he was being hesitant with his pitches and wasn’t really getting after it,” senior catcher Troy Dixon said of Magee. “Start attacking guys, going after guys and mixing things up. You’ll get outs. I thought he did a great job.”
UNCG got out to an early lead, scoring two runs in the opening two frames, but Magee started throwing strikes, giving St. John’s new life.
“In the first couple of innings, I was really trying to place my pitches,” Magee said. “UNC-Greensboro really did a good job of capitalizing on that. They got me pretty good in the first couple of innings.”
St. John’s took advantage of Magee’s performance, scoring in the seventh on Dixon’s RBI double to left. The Red Storm couldn’t do much else, however, and UNCG scraped across an unearned insurance run in the bottom of the eighth.
It’s a disappointing finish for a Red Storm season that was often dominant. St. John’s tied for the second-highest win total in program history and finished just one off the school record set in 2010, but the squad was still frustrated with its postseason performance.
The Red Storm wanted to make a statement, but, walking off the field, the team knew it missed its chance.
“It’s tough to keep it in perspective because when you get rewarded with an at-large bid, you want to come out and play better,” Blankmeyer said. “We earned it, we deserved it in my book. Our year has been good and we’ve been consistent, we just didn’t finish.”