CLEARWATER, Fla. – Matt Carasiti worked 6.2 innings of three-run ball, while freshmen Zach Lauricella and Bret Dennis combined for five RBI as St. John’s defeated South Florida 7-3 to notch its conference-record seventh Big East Championship title and earn an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
Dennis was 1-for-3 with three RBI, while Lauricella finished 1-for-1 with a home run and two RBI to lead St. John’s (37-21). Matt Wessinger and Sean O’Hare each finished 2-for-5, while Kyle Richardson and Frank Schwindel added an RBI apiece. Carasiti (6-5), who earned the Jack Kaiser Award as the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament, had four strikeouts and allowed three runs, two earned, to earn his second win of the Tournament. Luis Llerena and James Ramsay had an RBI apiece for USF (38-22), while Andrew Barbosa (7-7) took the loss after allowing four runs in 5.1 innings of work.
Carasiti was joined by Lauricella, Wessinger, Schwindel, Jeremy Baltz and Danny Bethea on the Big East All-Tournament Team.
“We earned a share of the regular season title and I believe that this ballclub was on a mission to prove that they were the Big East champions,” said head coach Ed Blankmeyer, who has now won three Big East Championship titles (2012, 2010 & 1997). “We are very excited to be going on to the NCAA tournament for a third-straight year and are ready to compete against the best teams in the country.”
Carasiti retired the first six batters of the game before St. John’s grabbed an early 1-0 lead in the second after Baltz set the table with a leadoff walk. Baltz then stole second before O’Hare singled to set up runners on the corners with no outs. Lauricella then lifted a sacrifice fly into centerfield to put the Red Storm on the board. O’Hare stole second base before Bethea walked to keep the inning alive, but Barbosa retired the next two batters.
USF, however, collected four singles and took advantage of an error to plate three runs in the third and take a 3-1 lead. Todd Brazeal led off the frame with a single before Andrew Longley and Alex Mendez loaded the bases with back-to-back one-out singles. Llerena followed with an RBI single and the Bulls tied the game at 1-1. Ramsey then rolled a groundball to second, but an error allowed two runs to score before Carasiti got out of the inning with a 5-4-3 double play.
The Red Storm used the long ball to answer quickly with a run in the bottom of the third as Lauricella blasted a two-out solo home run to left field to pull St. John’s to within 3-2.
St. John’s chased Barbosa and retook the lead with a two-run sixth inning. Baltz and O’Hare led off with back-to-back singles before Lauricella advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt and USF lifted Barbosa in favor of Andrew Loynaz. After Bethea was plunked to load the bases, Dennis was also plunked to force in a run and tie the game before Richardson lifted a sacrifice fly into center to give the Red Storm a 4-3 lead. Pinch hitter Jimmy Brennan walked and USF went back to the bullpen, but Adrian Puig got a forceout to end the inning.
Carasiti, meanwhile, worked 1-2-3 innings in the fourth, fifth and sixth, eventually retiring 11-straight before allowing a one-out walk to Buddy Putnam in the seventh. Carasiti followed with a strikeout of Brazeal as pinch runner Kyle Copack stole second. The righty was then lifted with a 2-0 count to Kyle Teaf, but Kevin Kilpatrick got a strikeout to end the inning.
St. John’s used a two-out rally to add two more runs in the seventh and take a 6-3 lead. Puig retired the first two batters before O’Hare reached on an error to extend the inning. O’Hare then stole second before Lauricella walked and Bethea was plunked to load the bases. Dennis then lined a two-run single into left field to give St. John’s a 6-3 lead. An errant relay throw on the play left the Red Storm with runners on second and third, but Puig induced a groundout to end the inning.
Kilpatrick walked the leadoff batter in the eighth, but responded with a flyout and a 4-6-3 double play to keep it a 6-3 game.
St. John’s added an insurance run in the eighth to go up 7-3. Wessinger started things with an infield single before being set in motion and scoring on a Schwindel RBI double inside the third base bag.
After a issuing a one-out walk in the ninth, Kilpatrick induced a game-ending 4-6-3 double play to clinch the Big East Championship crown.
St. John’s will now await its NCAA tournament seeding and regional destination. The NCAA Tournament selection show airs at noon on May 28 and is televised on ESPNU.