Ed Blankmeyer had to cancel the St. John's baseball camp scheduled for this week.
And the veteran coach couldn't be happier.
Blankmeyer and his Red Storm team has a more pressing engagement this week after winning the school's first NCAA tournament regional championship since 1980. That advances St. John's into a best-of-three super regional at Arizona that will move the winner on to next week's College World Series.
“Poor planning on my part about the camp,” Blankmeyer said with a laugh Wednesday. “It was the best cancellation I've ever had to make, though.”
St. John's started the 64-team tournament as a No. 3 seed at the Chapel Hill, N.C., regional. Among the four teams placed there was host North Carolina, the tournament's overall No. 6 seed.
The Red Storm opened the regional with an 11-3 victory over East Carolina, then slipped by North Carolina 5-4 on Danny Bethea's three-run walk-off homer against All-America closer Michael Morin.
The Tar Heels bounced back to reach the championship game, but St. John's ended North Carolina's season with a 9-5 victory that secured the Red Storm their first spot in the super-regional round.
“There are a lot of good programs in college baseball, and to get that elite level, the super-regional level, is very difficult,” said Blankmeyer, who has gotten St. John's to eight NCAA regionals in his 17 seasons at the school. “It's difficult to break through because you're most likely playing on the road at a place where the host school has played 65 to 75 percent of its games.
“Things don't normally roll in your favor.”
Bethea's homer turned the tables the Red Storm's way.
“That walk-off homer really devastated North Carolina,” Blankmeyer said. “They were still feeling the aftereffects of that home run when we played for the championship. Fortunately, we played well, played our game and our style and got out of there with a win.”
Now, the Red Storm face another stern challenge in having to travel to Arizona to face a team that shared the Pac-12 championship. Arizona swept its way through the Tucson regional to improve to 41-17 heading into Friday's opening game of the series.
St. John's shared the Big East regular-season title with Louisville and earned the conference's automatic berth by winning the league tournament. The three regional wins improved the Red Storm to 40-21 heading into super-regional play.
“Arizona is a good guy, and they have it rolling at this point,” Blankmeyer said. “But I always tell my guys that it's not about them but about us. We're playing good baseball and if you're doing that, you have a chance.
“We'll control the things we can control. That was our approach in the Big East tournament and at the regional. We're not going to change. We'll try to play our game and play our style.”
That approach hasn't produced numbers that will overwhelm any opponent. The Red Storm rank 85th nationally in hitting, 78th in ERA and 209th in fielding. St. John's does rank in the top 50 in stolen bases (92, 20th), runs (390, 25th), walks (259, 30th), strikeouts per nine innings (7.6, 43rd) and hits (595, 46th).
“We have guys that know their roles,” Blankmeyer said. “We are who we are. We're going to Arizona and we'll go about our business. If that's not good enough, well, then that's not good enough.”
If it is, though, the Red Storm would find themselves finishing their season in Omaha for the first time since 1980 when future major league All-Stars Frank Viola and John Franco were pitching for St. John's.
“Everyone dreams to get to Omaha,” Blankmeyer said. “We might be a Northeastern school, but that's our dream, too. I'm sure some of our guys might look ahead a little bit, but once we stepped off the bus in getting back from North Carolina, our full attention was on this week.
“One of the things that helped us last week is that we had no fear of the unknown. We played North Carolina this year. We played East Carolina last year. We were familiar with the facility that we were playing in. That's not going to be the case this week.”
St. John's and Arizona have played three times, the latest meeting coming in 1993.
“We're not going to be quite as familiar with what we're getting into,” Blankmeyer said. “The first couple of innings of Friday's game will be key. If we can hold our own and get our sea legs, I think we'll be OK, but there is going to be a little more fear of the unknown at work.”
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