BC off to 3-1 start thanks to excellent running game

by TOM JOYCE

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — After losing Andre Williams to the NFL Draft, the Boston College Eagles took a huge hit in their run game. Last year Williams rushed for 2177 yards on 355 attempts in a true breakout senior year. He was even a runner up in the Heisman trophy voting.

Despite losing one of the most prolific running backs in the team’s history, the Eagles have found a new way to generate yards on the ground — and lots of them for that matter.

Florida transfer and Eagles starting quarterback Tyler Murphy has done his best to fill the void losing Andre Williams left in the offense. In four games, he has already rushed for 500 yards on 55 carries while leading the Eagles’ option-based offense.

In total, the Eagles have six players who have rushed for at least 100 yards meaning that they share the ball well and use the correct personnel for each situation.

Saturday marked the first time all year that Murphy did not rush for 100 yards in a game. He was one shy rushing for 99 yards on 13 carries. The reason why he did not reach the 100-yard mark is because he was taken out late in the game in favor of backup quarterback Darius Wade as the Eagles led 33-10. They ended up winning 40-10.

As usual, Jon Hilliman played effectively against Maine. Second in rushing on the team with 241 rushing yards, he was able to take the rock 21 times totaling 98 yards. Two of his carries resulted in touchdowns.

For backup running back Marcus Outlow, the blowout against Maine very well may have been his breakout game this year. Working in primarily with the second offense, the freshman rushed for 107 yards on 14 carries, with a long run of 27 yards. Before breaking out against Maine, Outlow had only played against UMass, a game in which he carried the ball twice for three yards. After his performance against Maine, expect Outlow to get some carries while the games still matter.

With this in mind, the Eagles rank fifth in the nation in rushing yards averaging with 336.3 a game. As one could imagine, the passing game lags behind. The team ranks just 122nd with 124.3 yards a game.

Still though, the ground game works for the Eagles who are 3-1 on the year including a 37-31 win over a USC team which was ranked the ninth-best team in the nation.

In the running department, Tyler Murphy is a huge upgrade over former Eagles quarterback Chase Rettig who gained -225 yards rushing in his BC Eagles career. Passing is a whole different ballgame, but yards are yards and Murphy has done a good job helping his team gain yards as have the running backs.

Despite a lack of a good throwing arm on Murphy’s part, the team is 3-1 and destined for some sort of a bowl game. He might not be the prolific pocket threat that Tom Brady is, but Murphy does what he does and does it well which leads the team to victory more often than not.

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PawSox season another success

It doesn’t matter how you slice it, 2014 was a tremendously successful year for the Pawtucket Red Sox. The team made it to their third straight Governors’ Cup Final, and for the second time in those three years they came away with the Cup. It was an epic series filled with excitement, big moments, and players with little Triple-A experience stepping up with big performances.

But even before the team clinched the Cup, the season was still a big time success.

While winning at any level is good to see, minor league wins and losses don’t define the success of a season. It is all about player development and any organization will admit as much. Winning the Governors’ Cup, along with getting players some postseason experience, is icing one cake so long as the goal of player development is accomplished.

Going into the season, the biggest thing I wanted to see was how the team’s young pitchers grew and adjusted. I needed to see that Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, and Rubby De La Rosa were ready to contribute at the big league level. Each in their own way showed that they were ready to be Major League arms.

Ranaudo made the biggest impression by far, winning the I.L. Pitcher of the Year. Ranaudo’s numbers were dominant with Pawtucket, producing several brilliant stretches that Ranaudo himself described as “the best run of his career.” He was able to make adjustments early in the season to his delivery, something he attributes his success to. In limited MLB action he’s had his ups and downs, but has ultimately shown he can be successful.

De La Rosa bounced back from a rough 2013 season, showing why he was a highly regarded prospect. He made an impact with Pawtucket early and spent most of the year in Boston’s rotation. Barnes started off the year injured, but after a rocky start dominated in the finals months of the season. Webster was promoted in July, and though again his MLB numbers aren’t impressive he showed he has graduated from Triple-A.

The bottom line for all four of these young arms is they reestablished their value at a critical point in their careers. Will they all make Boston’s rotation, or roster, next year? That is highly unlikely, as there won’t be enough room for all of them. One would assume the organization goes out and acquires at least one established free agent arm to join Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly, leaving two openings in the rotation. With many the many needs the organization wants to address in the offseason, the value of these young arms with MLB experience becomes huge for trade purposes. The possibilities are endless for how they manage these prospects, but they have certainly lived up to their end in 2014.

The offensive player I was looking forward to seeing coming into this year was Garin Cecchini, and I was happy with the season he put up. The numbers don’t jump out, especially after a hot start with Pawtucket. He struggled in the middle of the season, specifically in June and July where he hit under .200 in each month. However, he was able to fight through it, make adjustments in his swing, and deliver strong numbers the rest of the way. Factor in the fact that he learned the outfield in addition to his normal third base position, and one has to be happy with how he progressed this year. Will Middlebrooks has done nothing to show he deserves the third base job in 2015, so the idea the Cecchini could start there is very possible.

As the season moved forward, more and more of the Sox future passed through McCoy. Henry Owens dazzled in his Triple-A debut, giving the organization a glimpse of what he can do on the mound. He also had some struggles at this level, but that is to be expected. At just 22 years old, he is the number one pitching prospect in the Boston system and will almost certainly start 2015 with the PawSox. As he gets more innings under his belt, expect the dominance to continue and a big league call up to be not far away.

2014 also saw “Mookie Madness” hit Pawtucket, as Mookie Betts tore up the minor leagues on his way to Boston. Betts showed that he can do a little bit of everything on the baseball field, impressing me more than I though he would. Learning the outfield was very easy for him as he transitioned out of second base plus he didn’t let the move impact his offense. A ceiling of dynamic leadoff hitter for Boston in 2015 is not out of reach based on what he has shown.

Three players that will likely start 2015 with Pawtucket after coming up in the final months of the season are Blake Swihart, Deven Marrero, and Edwin Escobar. Each of these players made huge contributions to the team’s championship run and will look to continue their growth after promising years.

As we look back on 2014, the PawSox have a lot to be proud of. They were able to develop the organization’s young pitchers and hitters, promote some of their brightest Double-A talent to McCoy, send major league ready players to Boston, and return the Governors’ Cup to its rightful home.

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PawSox let Game Two slip away

Already up 1-0 in their best of five Governors’ Cup series, Pawtucket would have to get a game two win with someone who has never pitched in Triple-A.

Brian Johnson, who spent most of this year dominating in Portland, was summoned to make his Triple-A debut when Matt Barnes was called up to Boston on Monday. He faced off against Alex Colome who has spent time in the big leagues this season for the Rays.

Johnson pitched strong, but the PawSox lost 4-3 after letting a late lead slip away. Their series is now tied 1-1.

For the second consecutive game, Pawtucket struck quickly with runs in the first two innings. The team loaded the bases with no outs in the first, though only managed one run on a groundout from Ryan Lavarnway. Ivan DeJesus Jr. started off the second with a triple and Corey Brown launched a two-run home run giving Pawtucket a 3-0 lead.

That would chase the ineffective Colome from the game after an inning and a third, marking the second time in as many games a Durham starter didn’t make it past three innings.

Durham responded with a two run home run in the third inning by Mike Mahtook to make it 3-2, but that would be all the offense until the later innings. Pawtucket had plenty of scoring chances early, though didn’t capitalize nearly enough on them.

“We had a chance to blow it open,” Manager Kevin Boles said. “We missed some opportunities. I liked how we burned through their starter and get opportunities but we just couldn’t push runs across.”

Johnson looked solid in his six innings of work, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks while striking out seven. He flashed an impressive curveball, though did not factor in the decision.

“He pitched well,” Boles said. “He settled in with a good pitch mix and he gave us what we needed tonight.”

“I was excited to get out there,” Johnson said of his debut. “I got on the same page as Lavarnway pretty quick. This year has been fun for sure and hopefully we finish on the right note.”

Heath Hembree, who was shaky in last night’s appearance despite recording the save, came out for the ninth but gave up a game tying solo home run to Vince Belnome making the score 3-3. Brown led off the ninth with a double for Pawtucket, but was stranded at third.

Pawtucket again squandered a golden chance to win it in the 10th, loading the bases with two outs for Brown who struck out.

The Bulls would not waste their chance to win in the 11th. With runners on first and second, Mike Fontenot lined an RBI single to right off John Ely, giving the Bulls a 4-3 lead. The PawSox limited the damage, but Pawtucket wouldn’t score in their half and fell by that final.

The Rusney Castillo watch continued, as he went 1-4 with a walk in his second Triple-A game. He had a chance to win the game in the ninth, however popped out weakly with a runner on third and one out. Once the game went into extras, he was removed as the plan was for him to play nine innings. He has shown that he will continue to be an aggressive player and when watching him play it is tough not to see flashes of fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig. Boles said that it is doubtful he plays in game three.

Pawtucket will hope to regain their series lead tomorrow as Henry Owens takes the mound against Matt Andriese.

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Castillo, PawSox lead Governors’ Cup

Tuesday marked Game One of the 2014 Governors’ Cup at McCoy Stadium, but more importantly for Red Sox fans it marked the Triple-A debut of Rusney Castillo. The 27 year old outfielder has come with plenty of hype, even though many aren’t quite sure what to expect from the Cuban. Though not a tall guy, reports indicate that he is fully capable of playing centerfield in the big leagues right now with the ability to have gap power and good speed. If this is the case, the organization is looking not only at their centerfielder of the future, but a potential leadoff or number two hitter.

Though he has already played in some games within the organization, this will be the highest level of baseball he has competed in. Not to mention it comes in the most crucial series the PawSox have played in all season.

For the third straight season (second against the Durham Bulls) the Pawtucket Red Sox will play in the Governors’ Cup Finals, though they will be without one of their star pitchers Matt Barnes. Barnes was called up to Boston for the first time on Monday after a great outing in the semi-finals. Edwin Escobar, coming off a brilliant semi-final effort as well, took the ball in game one against hard throwing Rays prospect Enny Romero.

Behind another strong outing from Escobar, Pawtucket won 3-2 to take the lead in this best of five series.

Pawtucket struck quickly in the first when Ivan De Jesus Jr. singled to right and eventually scored on an RBI single from Travis Shaw. They added to their lead in the second after Blake Swihart doubled and scored on an opposite field single from Deven Marrero to make it 2-0 PawSox.

Durham responded with two in the third on a two out, two run single by Mike Mahtook but Pawtucket quickly regained the lead on an 11 pitch sacrifice fly from Garin Cecchini.

The early theme for the PawSox offense was working counts as they were able to chase Romero from the game by making him throw 77 pitches through three innings.

Doug Mathis was called upon to silence the Pawtucket bats, and he did a good job of that in the middle innings. However Escobar was able to the same to the Bulls’ bats, keeping them off balance and limiting chances. He had to give way to the bullpen in the eighth inning, but they were able to close it out and secure the 3-2 PawSox win.

Escobar picked up the win, going seven innings giving up two runs on six hits and five strikeouts. For the second consecutive postseason start he didn’t walk a batter. Hembree earned a four out save, escaping trouble in the eighth and ninth innings. This included getting out of a bases loaded, one out jam to close the game.

“He was impressive and had a good mix,” Manager Kevin Boles said of his starter. “The tempo with him and Swihart was good and he did a good job keeping the defense involved.”

Castillo ended his debut going 1-4 with two strikeouts. His first Triple-A hit came on a sharp single past the third baseman, however he was quickly erased on a caught stealing. Both strikeouts came on 96 mph fastballs, one looking and one swinging. Though it’s tough to judge on just one game, his swing has some resemblance to fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig.

“He expanded the zone a couple of times but he’s an athlete and you can tell,” Boles said. “It stands out. We’re going let him play his game and be himself. There’s a lot to like.”

“I felt good,” Castillo said through his translator. “It was nice to pull out the win in a tight game but I felt more comfortable as the game progressed. I may have been a little over aggressive at first but I tried to be more patient after my third at bat.”

Pawtucket looks to take a commanding 2-0 series lead tomorrow night when Brian Johnson makes his Triple-A debut against Alex Colome.

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Barnes, PawSox take 2-0 lead

Coming off a walk off victory last night, the Pawtucket Red Sox looked to take a commanding 2-0 lead in their best of five series against the Syracuse Chiefs. Matt Barnes took the hill for the Wild Card Champion PawSox looking to build upon his strong campaign while Scott McGregor got the start for the I.L. North Champion Chiefs.

Barnes was able to follow up Edwin Escobar’s tremendous start with a great outing of his own, leading the PawSox to an 8-2 victory.

After both offenses started out cold in game one, Pawtucket wasted no time striking first in game two. Jackie Bradley Jr. singled to start the first and scored on a Travis Shaw double. After a Ryan Lavarnway ground out plated another run, last night’s hero Garin Cecchini singled home Shaw giving the Sox a 3-0 lead.

The pitching dominance then picked up right where it left off, as neither team would see many scoring chances through five innings. The closest Syracuse came to Barnes was a one out double by Jeff Kobernus in the sixth, but that’s all Pawtucket’s young hurler would allow.

Pawtucket opened it up in the bottom half of the inning, taking advantage of the Chief’s bullpen. Shaw and Cecchini reached to begin the inning and moved into scoring position on a balk from Felipe Rivero. Ryan Roberts drove them home with a two run double and scored on Devin Marrero’s single to make the score 6-0 after six.

“We had a lot of quality at bats, and if we made an out it was a tough out,” manager Kevin Boles explained. “Cecchini has turned a corner and he’s back to the guy we know. He’s using the whole field and impacting the baseball.”

The PawSox added two more in the seventh on a Cecchini triple and a Roberts single, winning by the final of 8-2.

Barnes earned the win pitching seven strong innings, scattering three hits while striking out six and walking no one.

“I felt pretty good,” Barnes said after the game. “I was able to establish my fastball early and let the change up play off of that. Being here last year for the playoffs got me used to the atmosphere and what its like. You know you have to go out there, put up zeros, and pitch as deep as possible.”

“He was terrific,” Boles said of his pitcher. “Not walking anyone was a huge key for him. He was able to attack this lineup and that was huge.”

Cecchini paced the offensive attack going 4-4 with two RBIs while Roberts went 3-4 with three RBIs. Bradley and Marrero each added two hits of their own.

Pawtucket looks to end the series tomorrow in Syracuse, as top prospect Henry Owens takes the mound against Mitch Lively.

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