With the 2017 season of Birdball in the books, the time has come to look back on all 53 games and what they brought: victory, defeat, and the team’s second postseason appearance ever. Coming off of last year’s run, the most successful in program history, fans of the Birds were left wanting more after this year’s postseason was cut short by North Carolina in the ACC tournament.
Such a stark contrast between the 2016 and 2017 seasons begs the question; what happened to Birdball? Ending the season having been shut out six times (including their final game), swept by conference opponents four times, and ranked sixth in the ACC, this team looked unrecognizable compared to the 2016 team that fought its way into the Super Regionals of the College World Series.
A preseason coaches’ ranking placed the Eagles second-to-last in the Atlantic Division, tied with Holy War rival Notre Dame (coincidentally, the only team with a worse conference record than BC by the time the tournament rolled around). Despite this, hopes for a repeat of last year’s postseason explosivity were high. However, an immediate sweep by Bethune-Cookman to start the regular season brought fans back to reality—perhaps the graduation of team leaders Joe Cronin and Nick Sciortino, whose backs the Birds rode to the CWS, proved to be a bigger loss than Coach Mike Gambino likely anticipated.
Sophomore Gian Martinelli was tasked with taking over Sciortino’s post at catcher, but his lack of experience was evident. While Martinelli himself was a solid enough replacement, a catcher with one year of backup minutes just doesn’t lay the same foundation for the infield as a four-year veteran. Junior Jake Palomaki rose to the occasion on the diamond at second base, but his athletic chops couldn’t make up for the essential leadership off the field that Cronin brought to the team.
On the whole, however, the season itself and what it means for the future of the program wasn’t a total wash. The Eagles managed to rally in the back half of the season, reversing a 13-game losing streak in the ACC to give the team a 1-14 conference record as of Apr. 11, to finish with 11 conference wins—the second most under Gambino as head coach. The regular season ended on a high note with a sweep of Notre Dame, the second ACC sweep of the season after the Birds took the series against NC State, which included the April 22 ALS Awareness Game played at Fenway Park.
Although the Eagles lost both games of the ACC tournament by considerable margins (6-1 vs. NC State and 10-0 vs. UNC), towards the end of the regular season, the team pulled out close win after close win, averaging 2.33 points more than their opponents in their last six games, which were all victories. On the surface, the blowouts at the hands of powerhouses like UNC and Clemson look like signs of a weakened offense, but BC’s ability to finish in tight contests like their final 8-7 win over the Irish prove that the Eagles are building the stamina needed to survive in the top conference in college baseball.
With only three players graduating, the Birds will return an almost identical team for the 2018 season, and the momentum from late season wins will hopefully carry the team towards more success as they retire from playing at Shea Field, and hope to bring more wins home to Chestnut Hill from their new home on Brighton campus.