February is that time of year when baseball wakes up from its winter hibernation to begin anew. While over the past week ballplayers across the Major Leagues are making their annual treks to the sun shined and cacti-ed landscapes of Arizona and Florida, players on the college circuit have been hitting the fields as well to open up their 2016 seasons.
For the Red Storm of St. John's that meant making a trip down to Wilmington, North Carolina for a slate of games to being the 2016 season. The trio of games that St. John's played over the weekend were part of the Buffalo Wild Wings Battle at the Beach at Brooks Field which was hosted by the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
It was not an ideal trip to the beach for St. John's this weekend as they opened up their 2016 season with a record of 1-2 over the course of their three games in Wilmington.
On Friday as the season got under way, St. John's squared off against the Richmond Spiders in what would be game of offense for both teams and a pitcher's worst nightmare as Richmond edged out the Red Storm by a score of 14 to 10. St. John's starter, Joey Christopher worked a quick 1-2-3 first inning and appeared to have settled himself with ease, but soon found himself chased from the game after a five run second inning. In all, St. John's needed the firemen to put out their fires as a grand total of eight pitchers would come into the game for the Red Storm. Joe Nellis was saddled with the loss after surrendering three runs in his 1.1 innings pitched out of the pen. The high mark for St. John's though was the offense as Josh Shaw shined in his college ball debut going 2-for-4 with two runs batted in and two runs scored. Jesse Beraldi homered and went 1-for-2 all while collecting two walks and batting in two runs as well. Finally fellow freshman Aidan McDermott went 2-for-3 which included two runs batted in. While St. John's showed strong signs at the plate it was the pitching that set them back as they were unable to untangle themselves from the spider web that was Richmond's matching offense.
Picking up on Saturday where St. John's left off following their loss to Richmond, the Johnnies played host North Carolina Wilmington. In an easily forgettable game for the Red Storm, St. John's were dealt a 16 to 1 blowout loss at the hands of the UNCW Seahawks. Kevin MacGee got the start for the Johnnies, but only lasted 2.2 innings on the mound as he was forced to retire from the game after giving up ten hits and eight runs, six of which were earned runs. Following Magee's departure from the game, the Johnnies called on the firemen once again to try and ease UNCW's pace, in all four more pitchers would come into the game for St. John's. Magee was saddled with the loss and an early season inflated ERA. At the plate it was rather quiet as UNCW's Alex Royalty was left his royal mark on the St. John's batting order, going five innings and only surrendering one hit in the duration and one unearned run. Oddly enough despite the rather anemic showing at the plate, hitters for the Red Storm only struck out four times. Josh Shaw, Aidan McDermott, and Mark Venice were the only players for St. John's to collect hits in the rout. For the Seahawks, Kennard McDowell, Daniel Stack,and Gavin Stupienski all had three RBI days in the winning effort. Only thing St. John's could do now was look to Sunday to close out what was becoming a lost weekend.
In their final game on the shores of Cape Fear, St. John's squared off against the Catamounts of Western Carolina. Prior to this game, Western Carolina suffered a similar fate that St. John's suffered against North Carolina Wilmington, losing by a score of 15 to 2. In Sunday's affair, St. John's would burst out of the gates defeating the Catamounts by a score of 14 to 3. Ryan McAuliffe got the start for the Red Storm as he went 4.2 innings for his first start of the season, striking out eight Western Carolina batters in the process in a game that would land him a no decision. It would be Thomas Hackimer who would get the win for the Red Storm as he made his first relief debut on the year, going one inning and striking out two in the process. While the pitching was stellar on this day, it was the bats and offense that carried the day. Namely the offense of Aidan McDermott who launched his first collegiate career home run into orbit and batted in five runs in the effort. Follow freshman Josh Shaw went 2-for-4, collecting three RBI's and scoring three runs in the process. John Valente and Robbie Knightes added three runs batted in apiece to the effort as well, as St. John's seemingly was shaking off their early season setbacks against Western Carolina.
In all it was an opening week of highs and lows for the Johnnies who still have Carolina on their mind as they make the trip from Wilmington to Raleigh for a midweek game with the North Carolina State Wolfpack. It was not the ideal start but St. John's still look to be a team that has a lot of potency in the lineup.