Elimination games in any post season can be nerve wracking.
Elimination games against a team that has a lineup laden with .300 hitters, with warning track power up and down that lineup, a top-25 ranking, and vengeance on their mind is enough weight to crumble a starting pitcher.
Not so for Seton Hall hurler Cullen Dana.
In 6 innings of stellar work, Dana managed to keep the angry hitters of St. John’s at bay, spreading out 7 hits, striking out 5, while inducing 7 groundouts and 6 fly outs.
On a picturesque day in downtown Omaha, the Seton Hall defense backed up their southpaw starter, making a litany of run saving plays throughout the afternoon, letting Dana get deep into the game.
The first inning featured nearly all of the offense for both teams, with Seton Hall jumping on Kevin MaGee early.
Joe Poduslenko doubled down the left field line with one out to start the Pirate offense, getting singled home just three pitches later on a screaming single to left by first baseman Matt Toke.
After a Matt Fortin strikeout, Mike Alescio singled into the hole in the left side of the infield, moving Toke to second. Mike Caputo followed this up with a seeing-eye single up the middle, a wormburner that forced St. John’s center fielder Jamie Galazin to come charging in from medium deep center field.
This gave Toke plenty of time to score from second, giving the Pirates the lead.
2-0 Seton Hall.
In the bottom half of the first, St. John’s got things going early as well, with John Valente doubling down the left field line in an almost exact replication of Poduslenko’s double in the top half.
After Mike Donadio grounded out to short, moving Valente to third, Jesse Berardi was hit by a pitch, followed by a Tony Brocato strikeout. Fortunately for the Johnnies, the Fantastic French Canadian Gui Gingras slapped a single to left, scoring Valente. The rally would end with a Josh Shaw pop up, yet the Johnnies appeared to have some life.
It was not to be.
Still, 2-1 Seton Hall.
In all, St. John’s would fail to score the tying run, though they left 9 runners on the pillows throughout, getting sufficiently consumed by the LOB Minotaur, while Cullen Dana let his defense do their thing.
There was a moment in the bottom of the 6th where it appeared that St. John’s would finally break through.
Josh Shaw led things off with a double down the left field line. Troy Dixon would pop out in the next at bat, giving the Johnnies a runner in scoring position with just one out. Robbie Knightes proceeded to ground out to second, yet allowed Shaw to move to third.
Tying run, 90’ away. 2 outs. Jamie Galazin to the dish.
What resulted was an absolutely stellar at bat.
Dana threw three straight balls, then came back with a get-me-back-in-this-count strike. Galazin would whiff at the next pitch, then foul off two straight before this happened:
DANA IS FIRED UP!!! He strikes out Galazin to end the inning and strand the tying run at third. Pirates lead, 2-1, heading to the 7th. pic.twitter.com/AHgORE3B87— SHU Baseball (@SHUBaseball) May 26, 2017
Everything seemed to point to St. John’s blowing this one, leaving a bunch of runners out in the ether, except once Dana had exited the ballgame, they buckled down in the bottom of the eighth and got things rolling.
Gui Gingras, the aforementioned French-Canadian, uncorked an absolute bomb to center, falling just short of a game tying home run, yet allowing him to wheel around the bases and end up safe at third. Mike Antico came in to pinch run, yet it didn’t matter much, because Josh Shaw belted a double into the left center gap, scoring Antico easily.
Tie ballgame, 2-2, bottom of the eighth.
The Johnnies weren’t done.
Troy Dixon came on and sac bunted Shaw to third, giving the Johnnies a runner 90 feet from home in a tie ballgame. Sure enough, the previously suspended Robbie Knightes (he got tossed in the season finale against Villanova for saying mean things to an umpire, thus earning him a 1-game suspension) lifted a ball to deep center, plenty deep for Shaw to tag and trot home.
3-2, St. John’s.
Seton Hall tried to get things going, but just couldn’t quite get the ball rolling. Mikael-Ali Mogues pinch hit to lead off and walked, and after a bunt to move his pinch runner over, the Pirates couldn’t get a base knock to tie it up.
Seton Hall heads back to New Jersey.
#20 St. John’s stays alive, getting to tomorrow night’s elimination game against the loser of Creighton-Xavier.