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LIU-Brooklyn baseball continues ‘mission’ in S.C. regional

Blackbirds take on Coastal Carolina on Friday

May 31, 2018 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Well-decorated senior Andrew Turner hopes to help LIU-Brooklyn past top-seeded Coastal Carolina Friday evening as the Blackbirds play in their first NCAA Regional since the Nixon administration was in office. Photo Courtesy of LIU-Brooklyn Athletics

The Long Island University Brooklyn baseball team hasn’t lost a game in three weeks, reeling off seven straight victories with its season on the line.

The Northeast Conference champion Blackbirds hope to continue their season-high winning streak Friday evening at 6 p.m. against top-seeded Coastal Carolina in the opener of their NCAA Regional in Conway, South Carolina. 

“The NEC tournament was a great experience for the whole team,” second-year LIU head coach Dan Pirillo told the Brooklyn Eagle via email Wednesday as his team prepared for the program’s first NCAA Tournament game since 1972.   

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“We played sound baseball and came away with the crown,” he added. “The team played with passion all year and their efforts were rewarded with a championship.”

More than four and a half decades in the making, the Blackbirds’ first automatic bid to the national championships came via a three-game sweep of the NECs, including a 13-4 hammering of No. 1 seed Bryant and two tough victories over Staten Island rival Wagner. 

The 46-year tournament drought ended with Saturday’s 8-5 triumph over the Seahawks in Norwich, Connecticut, marking LIU’s program-record 31st victory of the year and 53rd since Pirillo took the helm in Downtown Brooklyn last year. 

“I couldn’t be more proud for a group a guys who were on a mission,” said Pirillo, who played infield for the Blackbirds from 2005-2008 before joining the coaching staff as an assistant from 2009-11. 

LIU is likely to send staff ace Patrick Clyne to the hill against the heavily favored Chanticleers (42-17) on Friday.


The sophomore southpaw, a Second Team all-conference selection, sparked the Blackbirds’ perfect NEC Championship run by spinning 7 1/3-scoreless innings of two-hit ball against Wagner last Thursday. 

Clyne, a Massapequa, N.Y., native, went 5-4 with a 4.39 ERA in 14 starts this year, but has been especially stingy of late, yielding just one earned run and eight hits over 15 1/3 frames in his last two outings.

The left-hander has also struck out 86 batters in 82 innings this year, pacing a record-setting 427 punch-out performance by the Blackbirds’ pitching staff. 

Clyne is one of five LIU players who earned All-NEC honors this season. Closer Mike Krieger (seven saves) and fellow junior Andrew Smith, the Blackbirds’ leadoff batter and center fielder, also received second-team selections. 

Senior first baseman Andrew Turner and junior third baseman Alex Briggs spearheaded the LIU offense and were both named to the All-NEC First Team.

Turner batted a team-high .344 with five homers and 19 RBIs while Briggs provided even more pop with team bests of eight homers and 43 RBIs. 

NEC Tournament MVP Greg Vaughn Jr., the son of former Major League All-Star slugger Greg Vaughn, will carry a hot bat into the regionals after doubling twice, driving in five runs and scoring four times during LIU’s three-game run to the NCAAs. 

Coastal Carolina, which won the national championship in Omaha in 2016, grabbed the Sun Belt Conference’s regular season and tournament crowns this year.

Whether they win or lose Friday, the Blackbirds will get at least one more shot at avoiding elimination Saturday, when they take on the winner or loser of Friday’s noon game between No. 2. Connecticut and No. 3 Washington. 

Only one team will advance from this weekend’s double-elimination round robin to earn the right to host next week’s Super Regionals with a bid to go to Omaha for the College World Series on the line.

Though they aren’t expected to bring a regional championship back to Brooklyn, these red-hot Blackbirds know they belong among the best teams in the nation.

Their collective “Why not us?” approach has already helped the Blackbirds end a five-year absence from the NEC Tournament and an NCAA drought that dates to the Nixon administration.

So why not find a way to win three games during the weekend and bring the Super Regionals to Flatbush Avenue? 

“Going into our first regional in [46] years is a thrilling experience.” Pirillo noted.

“All 64 teams left are here for a reason, including us. Coastal Carolina is a very good club and a we are ready for the challenge.”

 

Blackbird Notes: One day before his NCAA Regional debut, Turner was named to the All-Eastern College Athletic Conference Division I Second Team squad for the first time his standout four-year career with the Blackbirds. Turner, who was selected in the 40th round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Miami Marlins, but opted instead to return to the Blackbirds for his senior year, became the first Blackbird to earn the distinction since John Ziznewski, currently a member of Pirillo’s coaching staff, did it in 2014.  Turner ranked third in the NEC in batting average this year while ranking 10th in the entire nation in on-base percentage at a an eye-popping .498 clip. The Pennsylvania native also is two doubles shy of matching the all-time school record for two baggers, which was set at 44 by his former teammate, Pete Leonello, from 2011-14.

 


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