Sean Mooney and Zac Lowther.
Two of the best the conference has to offer on the hill.
One, a freshman righty from Marmora, New Jersey.
The other, a 6’2 235 mound of mass and finesse, a junior from Brooklyn Heights, Ohio.
Mooney, the conference’s pitcher and freshman of the year, hit a wall of trouble in the first inning when he gave up a double, a single, and a walk to load the bases with no outs in the first.
With Xavier’s Chris Givin on third, Conor Grammes on second, and BIG EAST POtY Rylan Bannon on first, Joe Gellenbeck lifted a ball into medium-deep right field. Givin tagged and score, Grammes tagging up from second to third, and Bannon holding steady on first.
Will LaRue then stepped to the dish and delivered another fly ball into the outfield, deep enough to score Grammes, and suddenly the kid from Marmora surrendered two runs in 14 pitches.
Mitch Gallagher then stepped in and shot a high fly ball just behind third base. The 15mph wind, blowing straight in from center, pushed the ball foul. St. John’s short stop Jesse Berardi coasted in and caught it, the top half of the inning coming to an end with Bannon stranded on first.
Zac Lowther meandered to the mound and beaned John Valente to begin his day. Valente would eventually be sniped on the basepaths trying to steal second by Mitch Gallagher, and after a Jesse Berardi single, Lowther would induce a groundout to end the inning.
Mooney settled into a groove into the second inning on, allowing just two hits in the next three innings, while inducing five groundouts to a team known for lifting the ball into the gaps. His command of the bottom half of the zone became paramount, but in the top of the fifth things started getting away from him again.
On a 2-1 pitch, Mooney left a ball over the plate and Chris Givin smashed it into the left-center gap. St. John’s center fielder Joe Galazin attempted to pick the ball up, but booted it, giving Givin ample time to wheel around to third base. Just two pitches later, Conor Grammes smacked a hotshot to short, scoring Givin, and ended up on first with plenty of time.
By the time St. John’s decided to turn on the offensive switch, Zac Lowther had already racked up 5 K’s.
With one out in the bottom of the fifth, it appeared that Josh Shaw was going to start things up as he bounced a double down the left field line. This seemed to rattle Lowther a bit, as he tossed one in the dirt and allowed Shaw to move to third. He then beaned Robert Boselli III and the Johnnies were threatening with 1 out and runners on the corners.
Then Lowther recorded his sixth strikeout.
John Valente, a hero among some, then stroked a single into the left side of the infield, scoring Shaw, and giving St. John’s their first run of the game.
Mooney’s day would come to an end in the top of the 7th. He forced 9 ground outs, 6 fly outs, allowed 3 runs to score - two of those earned - while striking out just 3, walking one, and throwing 100 pitches. He was good, but not dynamite like we’d expected.
Enter: Joe Kelly.
Kelly started things off by giving up a single to Ethan Schmidt. Schmidt would steal second, then move to third on a sac bunt by Chris ‘The Sacrifice’ Givin. One pitch later Conor Grammes flied out to center, just deep enough to score Schmidt.
Zac Lowther finished off the Johnnies in order, getting them up and down in the bottom of the seventh. It’d turn out to be his final inning of work, collecting his 9th strikeout on 118 pitches. He was masterful throughout, getting St. John’s off balance and forcing them to swing at pitches a bit out of the zone.
Lowther’s final line: 7 ip, 4 H, 1R, 2 BB, 9 K's, 118 pitches - 76 of those strikes.
It didn’t take long for the Xavier offense to thank Lowther for his performance as Joe Gellenbeck hung an absolute monstrous dong on the second pitch he saw in the top half of the 8th. It landed about two rows deep just above the ‘375’ sign in right center field, giving the Musketeers a bunch of breathing room.
Matt Kent, the sophomore righty from Fort Wayne, Indiana, came in to relieve Lowther. He immediately got in a world of trouble, giving up back-to-back singles to John Valente and Michael Donadio. He dug himself into a deeper hole when he launched a wild pitch to the backstop, allowing them both to move up 90’.
Kent then proceeded to strike out Jesse Berardi, then induced a groundout - though a run scored, making it a 5-2 game.
Gui Gingras, a French-Canadian from Quebec who isn’t fluent in English, ripped a single to right on a 3-2 pitch. Donadio would score with ease but Troy Dixon would be thrown out at third on an absolute rocket from Joe Gellenbeck, ending the Johnnie’s rally.
Between innings a nice little rainstorm grew over the ballpark. By the time the first out had been recorded it was long gone. Part of that is because it was a very small storm but the other part being that Jeff Belge couldn’t get a guy out to save his life. He would leave the game with runners on first and second, handing the ball off to lefty Turner French.
French was no better. He gave up an RBI single on his second pitch, then goofed up fielding a bunt and threw way wide to first, allowing another run to score. He then walked a guy, finally got an out, but with the bases loaded he walked another. It was 8-3 before Ed Blankmeyer pulled him and put in sidewinder Matt Messier.
Messier, with the bases loaded, then laid a ball over the middle that Ethan Schmidt promptly deposited into the gap in right, clearing the bases, and ending up on third with a standing triple.
Chris Givin would single to score Schmidt, with Rylan Bannon doling out a double to score Givin.
By the end of it all, Xavier’s offense finally exploded, putting up 8 runs in the inning and taking a 13-3 lead.
St. John’s will play in the elimination game tomorrow afternoon at 2:30pm (CT) against the loser of the Seton Hall-Creighton game.
Xavier will play the winner of the aforementioned game.