Boston College Resetting Expectations With Strong Start

Image credit: BC outfielder Cameron Leary (Photo courtesy of Boston College Baseball)

Expectations outside the program for Boston College entering the season were low. The Eagles were coming off a season that saw them go 19-34 overall and just 5-25 in ACC play. They were picked last in the preseason ACC coaches’ poll.

A month into the season, however, the Eagles are flying high. They’re 12-2—the best start in program history—and this week entered the Top 25 at No. 18 following a 4-1 week that included a win at Tennessee and a series win at Virginia Tech. BC faces another difficult test this weekend, as it travels to Florida State (11-6, 2-1).

It’s March 16 and there’s still a long way to go this season, but expectations aren’t so low for the Eagles anymore. They look like a team that can compete in the ACC and beyond. BC hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2016 but it looks to have the potential this spring to end the drought.

Inside the Pete Frates Center, however, the expectations haven’t changed.

“If it’s not going to phase us when people don’t think we’re good, it can’t faze us when people think we’re good,” coach Mike Gambino said.

BC hasn’t been fazed by anything this season. After losing 9-0 on Opening Day at Pepperdine, it ran off 10 straight wins—half coming against teams that made the NCAA Tournament in 2022. It last weekend opened ACC play with a series win at Virginia Tech, which lost only one home series all of last year—in super regionals against eventual national runner-up Oklahoma. That series win came after the Eagles lost, 13-3, in the opener.

BC has yet to play a home game this season and just three of its 14 games have been at neutral sites. The Eagles have logged more than 8,000 air miles already this season—and still won’t play a home game until next Wednesday (weather permitting, their home opener has already been postponed once this season).

BC is simply going about its business and playing good baseball, no matter what gets thrown at it.

“There’s nothing crazy going on,” Gambino said. “We’re not hitting .370 as a team, we’re not pitching to an under 1.00 ERA.

“We’re throwing strikes, we’re situationally hitting, we’re making plays defensively. The feeling is this is replicable, that we can continue to do this. We don’t feel like we’re hot. The feeling is like we’re playing the way we can.”

BC’s stat sheet bears out that perception. The Eagles are hitting .273/.375/.445 and averaging 6.6 runs per game (140th nationally). Their pitching and defense have fared better, but they’re not playing above their ability. They have a 4.18 team ERA (47th nationally) and are fielding .984 (14th nationally).

The Eagles’ biggest improvement this season has come on the mound. A year ago, BC ranked 247th nationally with a 7.25 team ERA. They struggled with strike throwing, averaging 4.97 walks per nine innings.

This year, under second-year pitching coach Kevin Vance and director of pitching technology Will Jauss, the Eagles have made a jump. Walks are down and strikeouts are up.

“We had a couple years where stuff wasn’t the issue, it was consistency of execution and strike throwing,” Gambino said. “Kevin and Will have done a really good improving those.”

BC has also benefited from the arrival of righthander Chris Flynn, a graduate transfer from Division III Roger Williams (R.I.). He was a true walk-on at Roger Williams and has been a key find for BC. He is 4-0, 0.79 with 32 strikeouts and eight walks in 22.2 innings. Righthander Eric Schroeder, who last year went 0-6, 8.31 as a freshman, has been a weapon out of the bullpen. This season he is 3-0, 1.84 in five appearances and threw four scoreless innings to win the series clincher at Virginia Tech.

Throughout the pitching staff, there are similar stories. Freshman righthander Bobby Chicoine (1-0, 3.00) is off to a strong start. Righthander Julian Tonghini (0-0, 1.42) has taken a step forward as a sophomore. Righthander Andrew Roman (0-0, 1.93, 2 SV) has been impactful at the back of the bullpen as a graduate transfer from Division III Salve Regina (R.I.).

Offensively, outfielder Cameron Leary is in the midst of a breakout season. He’s hitting .308/.403/.692 with six home runs and three stolen bases. He’s always had power—last year he hit 16 doubles and 11 home runs—but had struggled with swing-and-miss and making more consistent contact. He’s cut his strikeout rate slightly in the early going (down to 23.9% from 27.7% a year ago) and is still slugging.

“His two-strike approach has been unbelievable,” Gambino said. “The guy can leave the yard with any swing. His power and exit velocity were never in question. His consistency and barrel feel have improved.”

With Leary and veteran outfielder Barry Walsh (.383/.444/.596, 3 HR) coming out of the gate hot, it’s given some of BC’s other stalwarts time to round into form. Outfielder Travis Honeyman this year was voted a Preseason All-American by MLB scouting directors after last year hitting .329/.402/.506 and turning in a strong summer in the Cape Cod League. He hasn’t quite hit his full stride yet this spring, though he’s far from slumping at .283/.345/.491 with four stolen bases.

First baseman Joe Vetrano (.283/.409/.660, 6 HR) was also off to a slower start before hitting four home runs last week, including two in the win at Tennessee. Third baseman Nick Wang, who was the 2022 Patriot League Freshman of the Year before transferring to BC, is hitting .260/.393/.360. Veteran second baseman Patrick Roche has an OPS of .609. Those slower starts actually help reinforce the idea that BC isn’t simply hot at the start of the season and that the Eagles will be able to sustain their success throughout the spring.

For now, however, the Eagles aren’t looking too far ahead. They know the ACC annually presents a gauntlet and this spring will be no different. They have dealt with bad injury luck in each of the last two seasons, derailing both of those campaigns.

So, BC is focused on playing good, fundamental baseball and not worrying about what everyone else is thinking.

“If we can play up to those standards, the season will ebb and flow, but hopefully in the down times if you’re playing good baseball, you’ll still be hard to beat,” Gambino said.

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