clear
Sunday July 23rd, 2017 2:49AM

Sizzling St. John's baseball off to best start since 1981

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

NEW YORK (AP) — Ed Blankmeyer expected his St. John's baseball team to have a solid start this season. But not even the veteran coach could have predicted the Red Storm to roll like this.

They're 19-2, the program's best opening to a season since the 1981 squad that featured future major leaguers Frank Viola and John Franco won 26 of its first 27 games.

Baseball America has St. John's ranked No. 14 in the country, tying its highest spot in that poll since that squad 36 years ago.

"For us to get off to this type of start, you have to be running on all cylinders," Blankmeyer said. "And at this point, we're lucky to be running on all cylinders."

St. John's, which beat Wagner 6-2 on Wednesday, was tied for second in the country with a .334 team batting average. The Red Storm's 2.61 ERA ranked eighth, making them the only Division I team to place in the top 10 in both categories.

"It's unusual to have everybody getting off to such a good start, really unusual," Blankmeyer said. "That's something that was nice to see because what that's done is we've gained momentum."

The Red Storm are also at No. 5 in the Collegiate Baseball poll, their best ranking since the school's last College World Series team in 1980 — also with Viola and Franco. St. John's is ranked No. 13 in both the USA Today Coaches' and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association polls, and No. 15 by D1Baseball.com.

"It's been a blast," said redshirt-junior first baseman John Valente, who had a school-record 30-game hitting streak snapped last week. "I think it all comes down to everyone on the team having fun this year. We have a different chemistry than past years, I believe. Everyone's pulling the same rope and we're excited, especially with all these wins."

Among those victories, St. John's has beaten defending national champion Coastal Carolina and nationally ranked North Carolina — both on the road. The only losses for the Red Storm, whose RPI ranks 12th in the country, have come at East Carolina and Liberty.

"When you look at our team, you don't see a bunch of power guys or like the Vanderbilts or LSUs, where they have the potential No. 1 draft pick or something like that," senior right-hander Ryan McAuliffe said. "We kind of just have a group of 30 guys who play together and have fun."

People have noticed, too, with those lofty spots in the polls serving as a sure sign of respect.

"Obviously, it's cool to look at, but I think it's more for our friends and family back home," said McAuliffe, from North Reading, Massachusetts. "For us, we know how good we're playing and know that we're very talented. I think the rankings just add to it."

It's a terrific start for a team based in the Northeast, where programs are traditionally stuck working indoors all winter before heading outside in mid-February — usually warming up in better temperatures on the road to open their season.

"I told the guys that I like to look at the season in thirds," said Blankmeyer, in his 22nd season at St. John's and the program's career victories leader. "We're basically past the first third of the season and you guys have an 'A,' but now you've got to play the next two-thirds of the season, which includes your conference, and guys are getting better, so we've got to get better."

Valente, from New Rochelle, New York, has played a big part in the early season success. He ranked among the Division I leaders with a .440 batting average, boosted by that impressive hitting streak.

"Coach Blankmeyer's pretty much like, well, we haven't really even started the season yet," Valente said. "We haven't accomplished anything, and I like it like that. You can't have your ego keep you from playing the game the way you know you can."

The Red Storm have six regular starters hitting .300 or better, including Valente, designated hitter Gui Gingras (.462), shortstop Jesse Berardi (.395), center fielder Jamie Galazin (.403), left fielder Michael Donadio (.359) and catcher Troy Dixon (.339).

Every starter but second baseman Josh Shaw (.293), who's a sophomore, is either a junior or senior, including third baseman Robbie Knightes (.286) and Anthony Brocato (.267).

"This is a mature group," Blankmeyer said. "They know what needs to be done."

The pitching staff has also gotten contributions from several players, with freshman right-hander Sean Mooney leading the way with a 2-0 record and 0.88 ERA. McAuliffe is 3-0 with a 1.08 ERA, but is dealing with a minor arm ailment that will sideline him a few weeks. Same with junior lefty Kevin Magee, who's 3-0 with a 2.50 ERA.

That leaves young arms such as sophomore righty Michael LoPresti (4-0, 3.70) and freshman lefty Jeff Belge (3-0, 3.92) to help solidify the rotation.

"Right now, we're going to be challenged a little bit because as we start entering five-game weeks, we're very thin," Blankmeyer said. "So, some of these relievers who haven't had extended stints are going to have to take the ball, so that's going to challenge us a little bit, but it also gives them an opportunity to contribute."

So far, so good for St. John's. Big East Conference play doesn't begin until next weekend, and the Red Storm know they've got a long way to go before they can consider this a special season.

"This team, talent-wise, without a doubt has the chance," Blankmeyer said. "But it's consistent play and performing. Time will only tell."

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Baseball , College Sports, AP Sports - College Baseball
© Copyright 2017 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals
These (under)dogs are ready to hunt: Cavaliers insist they're ready for Warriors in Finals
11:38PM ( 37 minutes ago )
Mayor: 'Heroes' died protecting women from anti-Muslim rant
Police say they'll examine what appears to be the extremist ideology of an Oregon man accused of fatally stabbing two men who intervened when the suspect yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim on a Portland light-rail train
11:38PM ( 37 minutes ago )
The Latest: Trump didn't sound like conventional president
While looking like a typical American president, Trump didn't sound like one when he diverged from long-standing US policies
11:06PM ( 1 hour ago )
Associated Press (AP)
LEADING OFF: Suzuki learning Dickey; rookies lead Rockies
LEADING OFF: Kurt Suzuki learning RA Dickey; German Marquez among rookies lead Rockies; Alex Cobb going deep for Rays
9:45PM ( 2 hours ago )
Anderson takes no-hit bid into eighth in Brewers win
Chase Anderson takes no-hit bid into the eighth as the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 6-1
8:12PM ( 4 hours ago )
Farah, Bowie and Baker win at Prefontaine Classic
Mo Farah pounded his chest after crossing the finish line on a U.S. track for perhaps the final time
7:58PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Sports
Cleveland Indians unveil statue of Frank Robinson
Cleveland Indians unveil statue of Frank Robinson before game against Kansas City
4:38PM ( 7 hours ago )
White Sox add Cuban OF Robert in deal that costs team $52M
The Chicago White Sox finalized a minor league contract with the 19-year-old outfielder Luis Robert, a deal that includes a $26 million signing bonus and will cost the White Sox an additional $26 million in tax for exceeding their international bonus pool
3:26PM ( 8 hours ago )
White Sox agree to deal with Cuban outfielder Luis Robert
White Sox agree to minor league deal with Cuban outfielder Luis Robert
2:42PM ( 9 hours ago )
AP Online Baseball
7 people ID'd for threats to NCAA ref after Kentucky loss
Seven people have been identified who threatened college basketball referee John Higgin after Kentucky loss to North Carolina in March
9:08AM ( 15 hours ago )
No indictment for escort, staffer in Louisville sex scandal
Grand jury declines to indict escort or former Louisville men's basketball staffer in sex scandal that engulfed program
7:18PM ( 2 days ago )
Quiet college dropout turned bomber: Who was Salman Abedi?
He was quiet and withdrawn, a college dropout who liked soccer _ and, some say, showed alarming signs of being radicalized years before he walked into a pop concert at Britain's Manchester Arena and detonated a powerful bomb, killing himself and 22 others
6:08PM ( 2 days ago )
College Sports
Sheriff: Chiefs top draft pick Mahomes unharmed in robbery
Authorities in Texas say rookie Kansas Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was unharmed after reportedly being robbed last weekend, and two suspects are in custody
4:42PM ( 1 week ago )
Sizzling St. John's baseball off to best start since 1981
St. John's baseball team is off to a 19-2 start, its best since the 1981 team that featured Frank Viola and John Franco won 26 of its first 27 games
8:19PM ( 1 month ago )
Seminoles' Martin has at least 2 seasons to overtake Garrido
The next milestone for Florida State coach Mike Martin is the NCAA-record 1,975 career wins by the retired Augie Garrido
2:16AM ( 3 months ago )
AP Sports - College Baseball
Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals
These (under)dogs are ready to hunt: Cavaliers insist they're ready for Warriors in Finals
11:38PM ( 37 minutes ago )
Mayor: 'Heroes' died protecting women from anti-Muslim rant
Police say they'll examine what appears to be the extremist ideology of an Oregon man accused of fatally stabbing two men who intervened when the suspect yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim on a Portland light-rail train
11:38PM ( 37 minutes ago )
The Latest: Trump didn't sound like conventional president
While looking like a typical American president, Trump didn't sound like one when he diverged from long-standing US policies
11:06PM ( 1 hour ago )
Ex-Senate staffer: Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning has died
Former U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher who parlayed his sports fame into a political career as an uncompromising advocate for conservative causes, has died
10:55PM ( 1 hour ago )
Keuchel solid in return from DL as Astros down Orioles 5-2
Dallas Keuchel had another solid start in his return from the disabled list, and George Springer hit a two-run homer to help the Houston Astros to a 5-2 over the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday night
10:24PM ( 1 hour ago )