Entering their matchup against the Seton Hall Pirates with a .500 record (15-15), the Villanova baseball team tried to claw back into the Big East playoff race. Starting the series off with junior pitcher Brian Streilein in the front end of a double header, the Wildcats appeared poised to capture the first game after securing an early 1-0 lead.
After Seton Hall recorded back-to-back doubles to start the second inning, Streilein retired 11 of the next 12 batters and demonstrated the discipline and location that have earned him attention from a majority of major league scouts. However, Seton Hall starter Sean Blake matched Streilein through eight innings in a classic pitchers duel. After lasting eight innings and allowing three hits, two runs (one earned), Blake turned the ball over to the Pirates pen, which delivered three scoreless innings and secured a 4-2 first game victory. With the score tied at 2-2 entering the top of the 11th, the Pirates tagged the Wildcats’ sophomore pitcher Mike Francisco, who pitched a scoreless 10th in relief of Streilein. The Villanova offense remained stagnant and failed to deliver a comeback, garnering just four hits and only two extra base hits over the course of the game.
Searching to avenge their opening game loss, the Wildcats jumped out to an early lead in the night cap with the offense exploding for 10 runs. Led by the pitching performance of junior lefthander Kevin Crimmel, who collected his third win of the season, and the clutch hitting performance by senior Joe Rosati, who went for 3-5 with a run scored, three RBIs and two stolen bases, the Wildcats earned a 10-4 victory.
“It’s been great to watch Crimmel come into his own since he’s one of the hardest workers on the team,” Streilein said. “He’s just getting more confidence and getting better every start.”
After managing just four hits in the first game, the Wildcats’ offense appeared rejuvenated, delivering 14 hits including three a piece each for both Rosati and redshirt freshman Matt Szczur. Utilizing a small ball approach, which has become a cornerstone of Head Coach Joe Godri’s offense, the Wildcats jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, after Szczur bunted for a hit and stole second. Capitalizing on two Pirate miscues, the Wildcats secured a commanding 10-1 lead with a five run fifth inning. During the inning, the Wildcats sent 11 men to the plate with four hits recorded.
In the series finale, senior Kyle Carver and sophomore Mike Francisco combined to pitch six scoreless innings out of the bullpen after redshirt sophomore Chris Pack struggled with three plus innings. After a two hour rain delay, the Wildcats started out sluggish, falling behind 2-0 after the first inning. However, the ‘Cats’ offense, led by the top of the order, clawed back from deficits in the first and third innings. Scoring two runs in the bottom of the first to answer the Pirates attack, the ‘Cats again erased another two run deficit in the bottom of the third, when senior catcher Wes Borden walked with the bases loaded to start the scoring affair. Borden’s walk was followed by back-to-back run-scoring singles from redshirt freshman David Koczirka and freshman Kevin Wager to propel the Wildcats to a 5-4 lead. Entering the game for the starter Pack, Carver tamed an aggressive Pirates offense, pitching three and one-third scoreless innings with a walk and a strikeout.
Francisco followed Carver with a dominating rebound performance after a shaky outing in the first game of the series. In two and two-thirds innings, Francisco recorded five strikeouts to capture his third save of the season. With the tying runs at second and third with one out in the seventh inning, Francisco relieved Carver and escaped the jam with a strikeout and a pop-up into shallow center field. Villanova tacked on two more runs when Rosati tripled home Wager and scored himself on a throwing error.
After back-to-back wins over Seton Hall, the Wildcats captured their first Big East series of the year.
“We desperately needed to win in order to stay in the playoff hunt, as we are one of three teams competing for the eighth and final playoff spot,” Streilein said.
Over the last few weeks, the team’s pitching staff appears to have reached its stride with back-to-back solid performances from Streilein and Crimmel. A revamped bullpen, which is trying to compensate for the loss of senior relief pitcher Josh Eidell, has been instrumental in the team’s last two victories. While the season winds down, the Wildcats are trying to build upon their two-game winning streak as important Big East games against perennial powerhouses South Florida and Louisville loom ahead.
“We still have some of the same goals that we had during the beginning of the season, but now we are just trying to take one series at a time,” Streilien said. “We are just trying to win a couple of series to get us back into the hunt.”