By Tim Williamson
CHESTNUT HILL While basketball and hockey usually control the attention and praise at The Heights during the spring semester, the Boston College baseball team has made a lot of noise during its final season in the Big East.
Not only did the squad post a school-record 36 wins this year, but it recently earned one of the four spots in the conference championship tournament this weekend at Commerce Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, N.J.
Boston College, which went 17-8 in the Big East during the regular season, is led by a senior pitching duo among the best on the East Coast who are making what are likely to be their final collegiate starts in their home state. Joe Martinez (South Orange, N.J.), 8-3 with a 2.62 ERA, and Mike Wlodarczyk (Medford, N.J.), 10-2 with a 2.96 ERA, led the Eagles into tournament play as the No. 2 seed and were expected to start the first two games.
BC lost 6-5 Thursday to rival Notre Dame, an opponent that had defeated the Eagles two of three times at home in April and in the 2004 Big East championship game. Wlodarczyk, named to the All-Big East first team on Wednesday, pitched six innings against the Fighting Irish, giving up four runs (three earned) and striking out seven.
The Eagles now are hoping to become only the third team in the 21-year history of the Big East's baseball event to win the title after losing the first game. The first pitch against regular-season champion St. John's was scheduled for noon Friday. If the Eagles win, they will play again at 7 p.m., against the Pittsburgh-Notre Dame loser.
The Big East Tournament works differently than the ACC version, as there is a round robin of only four teams (St. John's, BC, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh) that play out games over the course of the weekend. Like the ACC, it is a double-elimination event.
Offensively, Boston College is led by several hometown heroes, such as sophomore third baseman Jared McGuire (Harwich, Mass.). McGuire is red hot as of late, improving his average to a stellar .397. Senior shortstop Marco Albano (Arlington, Mass.) is improving after missing 17 games because of injury, while outfielder Jason Delaney (Hanson, Mass.) heads the team with 44 RBIs.
BC is a team that can put up a lot of runs quickly and often, as the Eagles outscored their opponents 336-218 this season. The team plays a hit-and-run, exciting style, with a whopping 113 stolen bases this season against 42 for its opponents. BC uses the long ball when it can, but this is more a team that's about speed and timely hitting.
The time for the Eagles to make a run to a conference championship and possible NCAA berth is now, since they will lose four crucial seniors and 10 players overall after the season. BC does have two underclassman hurlers, freshman Terry Doyle (Warwick, R.I.), who is 6-2 in his first season, and junior Nate Jeanes (Methuen, Mass.), who is leading the team with a 2.48 ERA.
The big question that will arise once the season ends, as it did for several other sports, is this: While BC did well in the Big East in baseball, how well will the team compete in the ACC?
Besides looking at talent and recruits, one needs to first consider, of all things, weather. It is almost the end of May in Boston, and the temperature remains in the mid-40s. That's not exactly good baseball weather.
While most Big East schools deal with similar weather problems, schools in the South have the opportunity to practice and train more during the winter months without missing weeks of school. That factor, as well as BC's true lack of a home baseball field, since the current facility is best-known for its use as the most-prized tailgate area during football season, could hinder the program's first few seasons in a new league.
The administration has promised to either improve Shea Field, which suffers from intense winters, or build another facility because of the difficulties of keeping the field in playable conditions. Because of poor field conditions, BC played only one home game before April 22 this season.
Nobody knows how BC will do in the ACC next year, but one way to track its possible success or failure is by using Virginia Tech as an example. Last year in the Big East, the Hokies finished seventh, and in their first season in the ACC, they were ninth in the standings with similar overall records (29-27, 23-27). That could be a good sign for BC.
While several questions remain for the future of BC baseball, this squad still hopes to complete what the football and basketball teams could not: win its conference championship in its final season in the Big East.
Winning now might be the ticket, since next year figures to present a whole new load of challenges that this team might not yet be ready to handle.
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