LIU-Brooklyn’s road to Omaha ends in S.C.
Blackbirds suffer consecutive losses in Conway Regional
They were outscored by a combined 26-4 while suffering consecutive losses during their brief stay in the Conway, South Carolina NCAA Baseball Regionals.
But the Long Island University-Brooklyn squad’s hard-to-swallow weekend didn’t take anything away from the Blackbirds’ brilliant run to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s disappointing to end two [losses] and out in a regional,” LIU head baseball coach Dan Pirillo admitted following the Blackbirds’ season-ending 10-3 loss to the University of Connecticut on Saturday.
“But overall, it was a great season for us,” he added. “I’m really proud of my guys. They played really hard for 57 games and did things this program has never done before.”
Did they ever.
The Blackbirds, heavy underdogs to even get to Conway on the Road to Omaha with a potential berth to the College World Series at stake, won a program-record 31 games this year.
They also swept through the Northeast Conference Tournament with three impressive wins and earned the Downtown Brooklyn school’s first-ever automatic bid to the NCAAs, marking their first appearance in the double-elimination round-robin regionals since 1972.
That’s a lot of accomplishments for a squad that began the year as an afterthought on the local college baseball landscape.
“I hope it keeps going forward, I want to keep coming back to Conway,” Pirillo said of the program’s progress in his second year at the helm.
“We have three seniors graduating this year, two position players in Andrew Turner and Dom Paiotti and a pitcher, Baylor LaPointe. The rest are coming back. So hopefully they put the work in to keep it going forward.”
The Blackbirds rode into Conway on a season-high seven-game winning streak, gushing with confidence and hoping that they would somehow find a way to advance to the program’s first-ever Super Regional this coming week.
But Coastal Carolina, the national champions in 2016 and a perennial participant in the tournament, built a 12-0 lead through the first five innings of LIU’s first regional appearance since the Nixon administration was in office.
Sophomore left-hander and staff ace Patrick Clyne absorbed the brunt of the Chanticleers’ fearsome offensive attack, surrendering six runs – five earned – on four hits with five walks and three strikeouts over 3 2/3 innings.
Clyne, who catapulted the Blackbirds’ NEC Tournament run with a 2-1 victory over Wagner on May 24, didn’t get much in the way of offensive support as the LIU lineup was handcuffed by Coastal Carolina starter Anthony Veneziano, a left-hander from New Jersey.
“The key to the game for me was Anthony being able to go out there and give us the outing he gave us,” CCU head coach Gary Gilmore said after his second-year hurler stymied the Blackbirds over seven scoreless frames.
“Offensively, it took us about four innings to get to Clyne, who pitched outstanding as well there early in the game. So, I thought Anthony was the difference for us.”
Beaten but unbowed, the Blackbirds ran out to an early 3-0 lead against the Huskies on Saturday in their win-or-go-home eliminator in the losers’ bracket.
Junior starter Zach Pederson held UConn at bay over the first three innings while junior Edward Modica Jr.’s two-run single in the bottom of the third helped LIU build its three-run advantage.
The Huskies, however, responded with 10 unanswered runs the rest of the way, killing any hope the Blackbirds had of advancing to yet another regional game on Sunday.
“Today was a better day for us, more of how we play baseball,” Pirillo noted. “UConn’s a good club, obviously, they wouldn’t be here if they weren’t.”
“We’ve gotta give LIU Brooklyn credit, they kept playing like we knew a coach Pirillo team would,” UConn head coach Jim Penders said. “They played hard, and they hit first too. They hit us in the mouth. But from the fourth inning on, it was a different ball game for us.”
Pirillo, who helped the Blackbirds end a five-year drought during which they failed to even reach the NEC Tournament, refused to take the brutal weekend as anything more than an important step in his team’s progression toward bigger and better things.
A member of the Blackbirds as an infielder earlier this century and an assistant coach with the team following the end of his playing days, Pirillo knows this unexpected trip to the regionals can serve as a launching pad for LIU baseball.
“We always refer back to 2013 and 2011 seasons when we had winning records and some good runs,” he said.
“But now we can refer back to 2018. So, I’m really happy with the guys.”
Blackbird Notes: Though they were seeded first and played the host in the four-team Conway Regional, the Chanticleers failed to advance to the Super Regionals after suffering a 6-5 loss to UConn on Sunday and watching as the Huskies fell to second-seeded Washington, 9-6, in the title game. Washington earned a trip to the Supers, where it will take on Cal-State Fullerton this weekend.
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