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Boston College 7, UConn 4: The Bullpen Masterclass

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The Eagles threw eight different pitchers who allowed only 4 runs against UConn. The ball did not carry far with high winds and a chilly Connecticut day, as seen on Kyle Wolff’s first at-bat of the game. The Eagles looked dangerous early after UConn issued two walks to start the game. Wolff smoked a ball into the left-center gap, but the center fielder caught it on the warning track, which moved Patrick Roche to third base. Vince Cimini stepped up to the plate and delivered a ground ball up the middle, causing UConn to spin a double play. 

Boston College continued to apply pressure in the top of the second inning. With two outs, Adam Magpoc reached on a single, stole second, and made it to third on a throwing error. Then, Todd Interdonato dialed up a small ball classic and had Owen DeShazo bunt Magpoc home, which put the Eagles up 1-0. UConn did not go away, responding in the bottom of the inning with 2 runs off of Brian McMongle.

The fourth inning started with a John Collins walk, two outs, a Sam McNulty single, and a Roche walk to load the bases for the dangerous Cam Leary. Leary sent a blast over the right field fence, which gave him the 3rd most career home runs in Boston College history. This home run untied him with former teammate Joe Vetrano. Cam Leary will have a special offensive season, and it will be interesting to see where he will finish all-time in terms of home runs. 

The Eagles pitchers had cruised until the bottom of the fifth. Travis Lane came in to relieve Kyle Kipp and started the inning with back-to-back walks before Interdonato had seen enough. The freshman, Gavin Hasche, entered the game. He loaded the bases with another walk and got a fielder’s choice to second base to get the first out of the inning. Charlie Coon finished the inning, allowing one more run to score via a sacrifice fly to right field and picked off a runner. The pitching staff did not allow another run between Aidan Crowley, Jordan Fisse, and Eric Schroeder. UConn led the Eagles 2-1. 

The Eagles extended their lead in the top of the ninth when Parker Landwehr reached first on an error, and two more runs scored, making it 7-4. Eric Schroeder shut the door in the ninth and sealed the win. I think this staff has taken huge strides since the first few weekends, and I’m glad to see the development of crucial relievers. Eric Schroeder has been dominant for the Eagles almost all year, but his statistics say otherwise. If you exclude his first appearance (He gave up 6 runs in 1 inning to Cal), he has pitched 16.1 innings, only giving up 6 earned runs, striking out 14, and walking 6. I’m glad to see tremendous development in this staff. 

This is not only for pitchers, but some younger guys are making an impact on the other side of the ball. The only real returners for the Eagles on offense were McNulty, Roche, Wang, Cimini, Leary and Walsh. The Eagles have gotten help from returners stepping into a more prominent role or new players on campus. Kyle Wolff stands out, leading the team in batting average (.348), and has become an everyday first baseman. Transfers John Collins and Cam Caraher have filled positions of need for the Eagles and played well both ways. Freshman Adam Magpoc has solidified a significant role in the outfield and often provides a spark to the lineup. This team has the potential to compete in any ACC game this year. After being swept by top 25 opponents #22 NC State and #13 Virginia Tech, the Eagles will have a long road ahead if they want to compete in the ACC tournament. Their offense is elite, and they can constantly put up double digits against teams like NC State. The most telling indicator for me is if the Eagles can continue to get success out of their starters like last weekend. If they can take some stress off their bullpen, they will be a dangerous team heading forward.

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Birdball Portal Commit’s Long Road to the Cape, ACC

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What you need to know about Birdball's newest pitcher, Nolan Sparks

Eagles add D3 All-American Nolan Sparks; why he picked BC, how he’ll adapt to the ACC, his journey to The Heights, and more.

Nolan Sparks pitching vs Brewster Whitecaps, June 2024 (Via Bourne Braves)

Boston College’s historic 2022 season was built on the success of Division Three transfers in the rotation and in the bullpen. Todd Interdonato has decided to take the same approach as he tries to lead the Eagles back to the postseason in 2024.

No addition has as more potential than adding Nolan Sparks, an All-American from the University of Rochester. The five-ten righty leaves the Yellowjackets after a dominant four-year stretch that saw him shatter multiple program records, including strikeouts (248), and win back-to-back Liberty League pitcher of the year awards.

His numbers were eye-popping in his senior year, striking out 80 in 60 innings (12.0 K/9) while only walking 19 (2.85 BB/9). He held opponents to a batting average of just .201 and had a WHIP of 1.07. He had two complete games, one a complete game shutout. Over the course of his college career, the Aurora, Colorado native amassed a 19-5 record and threw over 200 innings.

Why Boston College

When asked how he wanted to introduce himself to the Boston College community he wasted no time expressing why he committed to the school and program, stating that he’s “super excited for the opportunity to come play in BC. It’s a great environment, great city” In addition he cited his relationship with Head Coach Todd Interdonato, who he knew through his head coach at Rochester Joe Reina. Sparks’ visit to campus secured his commitment saying he “knew it was the right place, [a]good coaching staff, [and the] right kind of culture there.

As we’ve seen throughout the offseason the Interdonato hire from last offseason continues to pay off, as his wide range of experience and connections in college baseball has helped him get in the room and land some of the top players in the portal. That combined with BC being located in one of the best baseball and college cities anywhere in the country should be a sustainable draw in recruiting both high schoolers and transfers.


The Move to the ACC

One concern whenever you see a player jump from Division Three to one of the best conferences in college baseball is how their game will translate. Sparks’ arsenal is deep enough that he can find ways to get outs in a variety of ways. Primarily a three-pitch mix of fastball, slider, and curveball; the Colorado native has started to work on adding an additional pitch to the repertoire as he makes the jump. He has a cutter in his back pocket that he throws occasionally and is “learning this kind of splitter, sinker type pitch.” Watching the splitter in some videos from before his spring season, it has a ton of potential. The splitter has a ton of movement and could turn into a putout pitch next season or sometime in the future. Being more consistent with the splitter and cutter is what will keep him as a starter down the road in pro ball.

However, there are some adjustments that Nolan will have to make at the higher level. He called himself an “outlier pitcher” at the Division III level, which is certainly true. Not many guys at that level have a fastball sitting at 95 and can dial it up when needed. According to Sparks his “best put-out pitch right now is my fastball, then my curveball”; which is hard to argue with when there’s that much velocity on the fastball and downward movement on the curve. However, while a mid-nineties fastball is still above average for an ACC starter, its not unheard of and will be something opposing batters are prepared to face. He also has some control issues when trying to dial in and does hang a curveball occasionally from what I have seen. At the Division III level, he is good enough that it did not hurt him too often but in the ACC he’ll need to refine that control if he wants to be as effective. It certainly is possible and it’s not a major weakness in his game, so there’s no cause for concern with it. Just something that Interdonato and pitching coach Ryan Forrest will need to work on this fall/winter.

Pitches and Velos (Bullpen before Spring 2024)

FB; Mid 90s, Topped at 96
Cutter: Low 90s, Topped at 93
Slider: Mid/Upper 80s, Topped at 88
Splitter: Mid 80s, Topped at 86
Curveball: Upper 70s/Low 80s, Topped at 81


For those who want to see him throw, Tread Athletics posted a video of his bullpen from before this spring season. They’re a pitching training academy and it gives great insight into what Birdball fans could see at Harrington in the Spring.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2XR6crRQSk

Winding Road of Summer Baseball.

Sparks has climbed the ladder of summer collegiate baseball and this summer is playing a full season in its most famous league, the Cape Cod Baseball League. After his freshman year, Sparks joined Spartanburg in the Coastal Plains League, a league made famous by the Savannah Bananas when they were an actual summer collegiate team and before they left the league and went into full-time barnstorming. The next summer he joined the Perfect Game Collegiate League with the Batavia Mudducks, helping them to a West Division regular and postseason title. He was dominant with a 5-1 record and 0.22 ERA, striking out 45 in 41 ⅔ innings while having a sub-0.7 WHIP.

The dominant performance earned him a call from the Bourne Braves of the Cape League, looking to add pitching depth for the stretch run. With the Braves, Sparks was thrown into the fire almost immediately, making his debut on the last day of the regular season. In a new role, Sparks moved into the bullpen closing out the regular season finale and securing his spot on the playoff roster. In those playoffs, Sparks would record a four-out save in a first-round win over Falmouth and would stay on the roster through the championship victory.

Despite his effectiveness out of the pen, Sparks did not return to Bourne for the start of the season, instead heading to Vermont in the NECBL. There, he was part of a North Division Championship, and continued to dominate hitters, posting just a 1.16 ERA. For the second straight postseason, the Braves came calling and he made an immediate impact. With Bourne on the brink of elimination, trailing Hyannis 1-0 in a best-of-three West Division Championship, Sparks delivered four and a third shutout innings to force game three. He showed something in the game that answered a question mark some had about him; how he would pitch against an elite lineup with runners on. Being such a dominant pitcher in D3, Sparks rarely faced any pressure from having runners in scoring position but some struggles with control in this game led to nine runners reaching, five via a free pass, but Sparks managed to strand all of them and ensure none would come across to score.

Now, Nolan is back with the Braves; this time not as a temporary replacement for a team desperate for arms down the stretch. He is one of the only Division Three players in the country to earn a permanent contract in the league. As clutch, as he has been for the squad, and as effective as he has been at every level, the Brave’s General Manager, Darin Weeks (a Boston College grad) spoke even higher about him off the field. Weeks called him “a great kid and is one of the smartest kids we’ve ever had here”, citing the fact Sparks has already earned a pair of bachelor’s degrees from his four years at Rochester.

Off the field

Interviewing Nolan after an off-day on the Cape gave some perspective on what he does away from the diamond. Taking advantage of being on Cape Cod for the summer, Sparks said he and his teammates went golfing before hitting the beach. The Colorado native wanted to take advantage of the location since he very rarely is close to the beach due to where he’s from and going to school in upstate New York. His normal off days when not on the Cape consist of fishing to get away from Baseball for a little while. On the links, Sparks isn’t quite as talented as he is on the mound but has a relatable attitude, saying “I’m not a good golfer. I just try my best, have some fun.” I’d imagine Birdball fans won’t mind too much, certainly, they’d rather see a pitcher in the 90s for both golf and fastball velocity than one in the 70s for both.

Final Thoughts.

If Interdonato can get Sparks to campus in the fall, he’ll make an instant impact on the diamond. Nolan projects as a weekend starter for the Eagles and will eat some innings (6 IP per game last year) to help limit the usage of the bullpen. He’s got All-ACC potential and could be the difference between competing for an ACC tournament spot and competing for a national tournament spot. However, there is the draft question; starting three weeks from today, MLB clubs will select the nation’s best amateur players over three days and twenty rounds. Sparks certainly has the numbers and talent to warrant a selection. Just like they do for many other programs every year, the Major League clubs circle like vultures eyeing prized commits, leaving Sparks with multiple options and the biggest choice of his life. One he’ll have to make less than a month from today.


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Boston College Takes the Series Opener, but #14 Virginia Wins a Pair

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Photo Courtesy of @Bcbirdball/X

Boston College came into this series looking for a bounce-back weekend after being swept by Notre Dame. After last weekend, the Eagles held a two-game lead for the final spot in the ACC tournament, so they needed to continue to add ACC wins. #14 Virginia is also looking to bounce back after dropping a series last weekend to Georgia Tech. 

On Thursday, Boston College played its annual ALS Awareness Game at Fenway Park in honor of BC legend Pete Frates. AJ Colarusso, the Massachusetts native, was given the start on three days rest and dominated. Over four innings, Colarusso allowed one hit and struck out five. The BC offense built off of his shutdown performance by producing runs early. In the bottom of the third, Parker Landwehr smoked a solo shot into the bullpen to give the Eagles the early lead. In the next inning, Vince Cimini added to the lead with a two-run homer, extending the lead to 3-0 BC. 

After Colarusso was pulled, Michael Farinelli came into the game. Although he had four walks through only an inning and a third, he did great at escaping jams. In the fifth, UVA was threatening with the bases loaded and one out. Farinelli forced a pop-up and got a strikeout, which helped to maintain the lead. In the sixth, Travis Lane inherited two runners on base. Lane got a strikeout, but both runners advanced with two outs. Lane extinguished the threat after getting a pop-up to end the inning. 

In the bottom of the seventh, Cam Caraher started the inning with a bunt single and advanced to third off a single from Landwehr. Sam McNulty attempted a bunt to score Caraher, but he was thrown out at home. Adam Magpoc walked to load the bases, and Cam Leary hit into a fielder’s choice, which scored Landwehr. UVA got a run back in the eighth off a triple and a sack fly. BC blew the game open when they scored four in the bottom of the inning. Nick Wang started the inning by reaching on a throwing error, which was followed by a Cimini single. Barry Walsh bunted successfully and got on to load the bases. Caraher walked, which scored a run. Landwehr ripped a single through the right side to score two runs. McNulty laid down a successful bunt to advance both runners, and Magpoc walked to load the bases again. Kyle Wolff was drilled by a pitch, which scored another run, making it 8-1 BC. Landwehr was 4-4 on the night, with three RBIs. 

After relieving Lane in the seventh, Eric Schroeder finished the game and helped seal the win. He gave up two runs over the final three innings while striking out five batters, which helped the Eagles win 8-2. The Eagles have now won back-to-back ALS Awareness Games after winning last year against Notre Dame.

Friday’s game was a battle that came down to the ninth inning. The Eagles got their offense going early, seizing a 2-0 lead. Walsh, Leary, and Wolff started the game by reaching base, which set up Wang’s double down the line. Magpoc walked to keep the pressure on UVA. Once again, the Eagles failed to capitalize on timely scoring opportunities, and UVA was able to limit the damage. UVA came right back in the top of the inning to tie the game on a triple that scored two runners, knotting the game at 2-2. Cimini broke the tie by singling to score Wang, making it 3-2 BC after three innings. In the sixth, UVA once again tied the game. After a double and a fielder’s choice, UVA singled home a run to equalize the score. 

John West put together another great outing on Friday. West allowed three runs and struck out six batters over seven innings. Once again, Lane came into the game and pitched another scoreless inning. Lane has been one of the unsung heroes of the BC bullpen after Tyler Mudd’s injury. After battling with injuries over the past few years, Lane has gone into games with higher and higher leverage. Earlier in the season, his role was limited to mop-up duty. On Saturday, he had his most important outing of the year, pitching in the eighth inning of a tie game in ACC play. Over his last nine appearances, he has not given up a run. Lane did it again and gave the Eagles a shot to win going into the bottom of the eighth. 

The Eagles loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth but could not convert again after Aiden Teel, brother of Red Sox prospect Kyle Teel, made an outstanding diving catch in left field that saved the game for UVA. In the ninth, Aiden Crowley entered the game for Lane but was immediately pulled after walking the first batter he faced. Bobby Chicoine entered the game for the Eagles. Virginia got another runner aboard after a throwing error from Chicoine on a bunt. UVA laid down another successful bunt to advance runners to second and third. UVA lined a ball to second, and Cimini’s throw was off-target, which allowed one run to score. Landwehr retrieved the ball to throw out the trailing runner to limit damage to a single run. BC would be retired in order, and Virginia won 4-3 to even the series. 

On Saturday, the Eagles could not get anything going on offense despite having many scoring chances. The Eagles’ bullpen game gave them an excellent opportunity to win, only allowing two earned runs (four total). UVA added two runs in both the third and the fifth. The game showcased five Eagles pitchers, who only gave up five hits to an elite UVA offense, who came into the weekend hitting .341 (3rd in NCAA). Virginia won the game 4-0 and also clinched the series. 

The Eagles’ pitching staff has made massive improvements since the start of the year. They held one of the best offenses in the country to only ten runs over three games, which gave them great opportunities to win all weekend. Holding any team to ten runs over a series should lead to a series win. Even with a series loss this weekend, I was amazed by the dominance of the entire pitching staff. I hate to be a broken record, but leaving runners on base continued to kill the Eagles. Over three games, the Eagles stranded 27 runners on base, which is unacceptable. In Friday’s one-run game, BC left the bases loaded twice. On Saturday, both teams had five hits, but UVA was able to capitalize on their scoring chances. The Eagles need to be better if they want to win ranked series. Next week, Boston College will face UMass Lowell on Tuesday and start a must-win series against Louisville on Thursday.

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What Went Wrong? Eagles swept by Notre Dame

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Photo Courtesy of Ethan Roy

Boston College came into the weekend looking to keep their postseason hopes alive. According to two different publications, the Eagles were firmly on the bubble and were considered either the last four in or the first four out. Notre Dame came into this series with nothing to lose since they were 2-16 in the ACC. With BC right above them in the standings, this weekend could be huge in catching the Eagles and making the ACC tournament. 

The Eagles never showed up from start to finish. Credit to Notre Dame, they outscored the Eagles 36-7 and won twice by run rule. The key to Notre Dame’s success was early run production. They scored 21 runs in the first three innings of the games this weekend, including 13 in the first. The Irish made it so that the Eagles played catch-up from the beginning every day. 

In Friday’s game, Michael Farinelli gave up 8 earned runs over one inning. The Eagles started that game in a 9-0 hole after 2 innings. The Eagles cut into the deficit at the top of the third, but it was not nearly enough to stop the red-hot Irish bats. Notre Dame kept piling on runs often to make the final score 14-3 Notre Dame in 7 innings. The Eagles collected 6 hits over 7 innings but failed to assemble large rallies to cut into the massive Irish lead. 

On Saturday, John West had one of his worst starts of the season. He only went 4 innings and allowed 6 runs. Evan Moore relieved West and also struggled. Moore allowed 3 runs in 1 inning and was pulled. The score was 9-3 Notre Dame after 5 innings—the rest of the bullpen that game for the Eagles shinned. Travis Lane, Aidan Crowley, and Brad Lombardi combined threw a perfect game over 3 innings with 5 strikeouts. This effort was not enough, as the Eagles failed to capitalize on opportunities, something I highlighted last weekend. BC left a runner on base in 8 out of 9 innings, which made the difference. Although it was a 5 run game, converting some of the baserunners left on would have allowed the Eagles a shot at winning. 

Sunday was all Notre Dame. Notre Dame threw a combined no-hitter with 4 pitchers and continued to dominate offensively. ND put up 6 runs over the first 2 innings, followed by 7 in the fourth, cementing the game and the sweep for the Irish. Coach Interdonato was also serving a game suspension on Sunday. “During yesterday’s game at Notre Dame, I inadvertently had a student-athlete in the lineup who was not eligible to play – thus violating NCAA and ACC rules.  I apologize for my mistake and accept today’s one-game suspension” (Todd Interdonato, BC Baseball/X). Notre Dame is now 2 games back of the Eagles in the ACC Atlantic standings. 

This weekend was the worst-case scenario for the Eagles. Pending an ACC tournament win, the Eagles have a slim shot at making it to the College Baseball World Series. Also, Notre Dame is pushing for the final spot in the ACC tournament after this weekend, bringing the race back to life. With a challenging remaining ACC schedule, the Eagles will have to turn it around when they face 2 top ten opponents. This week’s ACC series is against #10 Virginia, starting Thursday with the 2024 ALS Awareness Game at Fenway Park.

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