LIU-Brooklyn baseball reaches NCAA Tournament for first time since 1972
Sweep through NEC Tournament, will head to South Carolina for regionals
The last time the Long Island University Brooklyn baseball team reached the NCAA Tournament Regionals, Richard Nixon was in the White House and “The Godfather” was making its debut in cinemas across the world.
Well, 46 years, eight presidents and two Godfather sequels later, the Blackbirds are back on the Road to Omaha, having swept through the Northeast Conference Tournament with three consecutive wins this past weekend in Norwich, Connecticut to grab the league’s automatic bid to the national championship tournament.
“We’re really excited to be a part of the Conway Regional,” second-year head coach Dan Pirillo said on Memorial Day after learning that his red-hot squad would travel to take on top-seeded Coastal Carolina in the opening game of the double-elimination round-robin.
The Blackbirds, who have already established a program record with 31 wins this season, none more important than Saturday’s 8-5 title-clinching thumping of Staten Island rival Wagner, will also have No. 2 UConn and No. 3 Washington to deal with in Conway, South Carolina if they hope to advance to the Super Regionals.
But for now, the team can relish the opportunity to represent the Downtown Brooklyn school in its latest trip to the NCAAs.
“I am very proud of the season thus far,” Pirillo, who has racked up 53 wins in his two seasons, told the Eagle last week.
“We set out to get back to the NEC tournament and we were able to accomplish that goal along with tying the school record in wins. It’s been a special season so far and we are looking to continue playing good baseball through the playoffs.”
Earlier this year, the Blackbirds’ basketball team reached the NCAA Tournament before falling in a play-in game to Radford, while the women’s tennis squad also punched a ticket to the NCAAs before being eliminated by national powerhouse Miami earlier this month.
The school entered the NEC Baseball Tournament as a No. 3 seed after sweeping a doubleheader against FDU here two weekends ago.
The Blackbirds haven’t lost since, running their season-high winning streak to seven games with a pair of victories over Wagner and a 13-4 dismantling of top-seeded Bryant in the NEC Championships.
Having made two previous appearances in the NCAAs, one in 1968 and the last in 1972, these Blackbirds are eager to prove they can play with the nation’s best, even if it means going up against the 2016 national champion Chanticleers in their home ballpark Friday evening.
“Coastal has a beautiful ballpark down there, and it’s exciting for the guys to compete for a regional,” Pirillo noted. “The opportunity to play and compete is really special. Hopefully we can build off of this past weekend.”
That momentum was built on the breakthrough performance of junior transfer Greg Vaughn Jr., the son of former Major League All-Star Greg Vaughn, who took home NEC Tournament MVP honors after doubling twice, driving in five runs and scoring four runs during the team’s three-game run through the league championships.
But ultimately, it was the Blackbirds’ pitching staff that shone brightest in the two wins over Wagner as sophomore southpaw Patrick Clyne stifled the Seahawks in the tourney opener Thursday with 7 1/3 scoreless innings of two-hit ball in a 2-1 victory.
Clyne, who went 5-4 with a team-high 86 strikeouts over 82 innings this season, figures to get the ball first against Coastal Carolina in the regional opener.
Sophomore Svete Jackson started the NEC championship game by tossing five scoreless frames before being reached for four runs in the sixth.
But the LIU offense had already put up seven runs and the Blackbird bullpen did the rest as Mike Krieger earned his second save of the weekend and seventh of the season with a scoreless ninth Saturday.
Against Bryant on Friday, sophomore Zach Pederson fired six solid innings of five-hit ball before converted sophomore infielder Rob Griswold took care of the final three frames.
Armed with talent on the pitching staff and a loaded lineup, one that includes All-NEC selections Andrew Turner, Alex Briggs and Andrew Smith as well as Vaughn, the Blackbirds are in position to do something even more historic than ending a 46-year drought.
“We’ve won seven straight, including three in the conference tournament, and hopefully we can keep the momentum going down there,” Pirillo said.
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While rumors abound that Nets assistant general manager Trajan Langdon might be on his way out of Brooklyn, the franchise has already lost a coveted coaching asset in G-League head man Ronald Nored.
The highly regarded head coach of the Long Island Nets is leaving the organization to join the coaching staff of new Charlotte Hornets hire, James Borrego, according to several news outlets, including ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Langdon, who has been at GM Sean Marks’ side since March of 2016, is reportedly in the running for the vacant team president/GM slot in Detroit, which opened after the firing of Stan Van Gundy.
Nored, 28, helped in the development of Nets guards Milton Doyle and Isaiah Whitehead, both of whom averaged better than 20 points per contest for the G-League squad.
The Pistons are expected to announce the new leader of their franchise later this week.
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