Auburn, Kentucky, or South Carolina. Maybe even Indiana State.
An unofficial poll of the Boston College baseball team prior to learning its destination for the NCAA Division 1 Tournament did not yield the ultimate result — Alabama — but spirits were high nonetheless as the No. 20 Eagles (35-18) earned an at-large bid Monday, the program’s 12th NCAA appearance overall and first since 2016.
They’ll head to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to compete with No. 16 overall seed Crimson Tide, Nicholls State, and Troy. Regional play begins Friday.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said graduate student catcher Peter Burns of Reading, shortly after the selection was announced at the Pete Frates Center at BC’s Harrington Athletics Village. “Throughout the year, we really grinded through it, had some ups and downs, and played with that chip on our shoulder the whole year.
“We’re fired up. Everyone dreams to play in a regional.”
Northeastern and No. 10 UConn also earned at-large bids. Northeastern, which received votes in the most recent USA Today coaches poll, is headed to top overall seed Wake Forest, UConn to second-seeded Florida.
Maine (America East) and Central Connecticut State (Northeast) won their conference tournaments to earn automatic bids.
Although BC bowed out in pool play during last weekend’s ACC tournament, it put together a strong enough season to earn an at-large bid to the 64-team tournament. The Eagles went 12-10 against opponents ranked in the top 25, and their turnaround of 11 conference wins — from 5-25 to 16-14 — led the ACC. Their ACC record is their first above .500 since 2005.
“The ACC feels like playoff baseball, so we really start playing playoff baseball halfway through the year,” said 13th-year BC coach Mike Gambino. “During the year, we say it’s not going to change in the region. It’s playoff baseball. We’re used to it.”
Senior center fielder Barry Walsh of Sterling (.303, 13 steals) leads off the BC lineup, and powerful first baseman Joe Vetrano (.305, 11 doubles, 18 home runs, 55 RBIs) anchors the heart of the order. A handful of local talents — including third baseman Nick Wang of Newton (12 doubles, 10 home runs, 40 RBIs), outfielder Patrick Roche of Milton (.293, 12 doubles, 36 RBIs), and Burns — all contribute.
BC played much of its league schedule without two top players, junior outfielders Travis Honeyman and Cam Leary, who were injured on consecutive days in late April and were expected to return before the ACC tournament. Only Leary (.257, 10 home runs), who broke a hamate bone, has returned thus far. He walked twice in pinch-hitting appearances in both conference tournament games.
Honeyman (.304, team-high 15 doubles), MLB.com’s No. 52 draft prospect for 2023, suffered a shoulder subluxation April 29. Gambino described his status as “hopeful.”
“We’ve got a deep lineup, and we knew going into the year that would be our strong suit,” Burns said. “If one guy doesn’t get the job done, the next guy will.”
On the mound, graduate student Chris Flynn (7-3, 4.21 ERA, 82 strikeouts in 72⅔ innings), a transfer from Division 3 Roger Williams, and junior John West of Shrewsbury (5-3, 4.52) separated themselves as the top two starters, while a bevy of hurlers, including two more Division 3 transfers, Henry Leake (Babson) and closer Andrew Roman of Monson (Salve Regina), make an impact.
Over the past month, West emerged as the de facto ace, boasting a 1.63 ERA and 0.51 WHIP since April 28. West, who lost his father to ALS at age 13, started BC’s ALS Awareness Game at Fenway Park and turned in a career-high seven innings against Notre Dame in the regular-season finale.
And while BC officials believed they had a chance at being the first Northeast program to host a regional since 1991, luck did not go the Eagles’ way Sunday evening during the site announcement. Alabama is one of eight SEC schools hosting. BC has never played the Crimson Tide, Troy, or Nicholls State.
Less than 24 hours later, during the Selection Show, ESPN captured BC’s thunderous reaction live with a direct feed.
“From the beginning of the year, we knew we could make a special run, and today’s a recognition of our hard work,” senior second baseman Vince Cimini said.