It was a tale of two games of the Seton Hall offense on Big East Championship Sunday.
After a 19-run outburst that forced a decisive game seven, Seton Hall’s offense fell victim to St. John’s left-hander Jeff Belge in the Championship game, as the Red Storm secured their ninth Big East title with a 7-0 victory.
Entering the day having to win two games in order to not only win the Big East, but secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament, Seton Hall turned to sophomore righty Noah Thompson as its starting pitcher in the first game of the day.
Making only his second start of the season, Thompson came out of the gates on fire and set down the first six batters of St. John’s potent offense. Likewise, St. John’s No. 3 starter Michael LoPresti allowed the leadoff man to reach base in the first two innings, but worked out of trouble on both occasions.
Deadlocked at zero heading into the top of the third inning, Seton Hall opened the scoring when senior second baseman Rob Dadona singled home Tyler Shedler-McAvoy to give the Pirates an early 1-0 lead. Handed a slim advantage, Thompson turned in a shutdown inning to keep St. John’s at bay, stranding speedy left fielder Mike Antico at third base.
The top of the fourth marked the beginning of the end for LoPresti, as his control eluded him at an inopportune time. Two-out walks by Matt Toke and Shedler-McAvoy loaded the bases for Seton Hall and forced St. John’s coach Ed Blankenmeyer to go to the bullpen. The switch to left-hander Joe LaSorsa did not pay off, as left fielder Christian Del Castillo legged out an infield single to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead. Dadona followed up Del Castillo’s dribbler with a two-RBI single to left field, giving Seton Hall a 4-0 lead heading into the bottom of the inning.
St. John’s responded in the bottom of the fourth, plating a run on an RBI single with only one out in the inning. However, Del Castillo gunned down catcher Robert Boselli trying to score from second base for the second out. Following the play at the plate, Boselli was ejected from the game for lowering his shoulder into Seton Hall catcher Mike Alescio as he applied the tag.
Following the controversial ejection of Boselli, Thompson was not out of danger just yet. With runners on first and second, Thompson nailed Wyatt Mascarella in the head with a pitch to load the bases yet again. With his control beginning to fade, Thompson was yanked in favor of Andrew Politi, who came on and recorded a strikeout to limit the damage and leave the bases loaded.
The bottom of the fourth was the last time St. John’s threatened in Game 1, as the Seton Hall offense exploded from there. In the top of the fifth inning, the Pirates tacked on three more runs to take a 7-1 lead. The Hall maintained a six-run advantage until the top of the seventh, where the Pirates exploded for eight runs, highlighted by home runs from Casey Dana and Del Castillo, to take a 15-1 lead.
With its lead secured, Seton Hall continued to pile on in the later innings, scoring 19 runs before it was all said and done. St. John’s notched a run of its own, but the Pirates overwhelmed the Red Storm by a final score of 19-2.
Game 2 was a different story, as the aforementioned Belge was tasked with slowing down a red-hot Seton Hall offense. Belge obliged, firing a scoreless first inning as the Pirates struggled to back into a rhythm. In the bottom half of the inning, Seton Hall turned to Big East Pitcher of the Year Ricky DeVito. Following a shaky outing against Georgetown on Friday, DeVito loaded the bases, only to induce an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play to survive the bottom of the first unscathed.
As Belge continued to quiet the Seton Hall bats in the second inning, St. John’s picked up the only run it would need on the evening on an RBI single from Big East Player of the Year John Valente. DeVito limited the Johnnies to one run in the inning while stranding runners on second and third, but the damage was done.
As the night progressed, Seton Hall’s offense failed to figure out Belge. While St. John’s offense continued to tack on additional runs against Shane McCarthy and Cory Sawyer, who came on in relief of DeVito, Belge held the Pirates hitless through the first six innings. It was not until senior right fielder Ryan Ramiz led off the top of the seventh with a single that Seton Hall broke into the hit column.
Belge kept his composure following Seton Hall’s first hit of the night and settled in to fire two more scoreless innings. Blankenmeyer gave his starting pitcher a chance to finish what he started in the ninth inning, but a leadoff single from Sebastian Santorelli brought an end to his night after 8+ innings, nine strikeouts and only two hits allowed.
With Belge out of the game and Santorelli on first with nobody out, the Pirates clung to the hope that it would be able to mount a comeback. However, St. John’s reliever Gavin Hollowell came on and squashed those hopes, as the 6-foot-7 right-hander closed it out to give St. John’s a 7-0 win and its ninth Big East Championship.
After a memorable run to the Championship game, the focus now shifts to reloading for the 2019 season. Seton Hall will be losing its ace in Shane McCarthy and valuable position players such as shortstop Al Molina, Dadona, Ramiz and Alescio. With that being said, the Pirates do return their fair share of talent next season.
On the mound, DeVito will return for his junior season, while Thompson will look to build on Sunday afternoon’s outing in hopes of working his way into the weekend rotation. Billy Layne Jr. will also be back for another year and Cullen Dana is expected to return after missing his junior year with an injury. The Pirates will have to make up for plenty of lost offensive production, but starters Santorelli, Toke, Shedler-McAvoy, Del Castillo and Dana will be back, along with Connor Hood, who saw valuable playing time with Toke sidelined due to injury earlier in the season.
Seton Hall finished the 2018 season with a record of 30-20-1.
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.