March 27, 2010
PLYMOUTH MEETING, Pa. - One week after the official start of spring, cold temperatures and moderate wind gusts have made their return to the Villanova Ballpark at Plymouth. And they are mixing with the red-hot pitching performances of the Wildcat starting pitchers. Call the mixture a perfect storm of sorts for Villanova (17-3, 2-0 Big East), which rode the dominance of Kyle Helisek (Cranberry Township, Pa.) and Mike Francisco (Newtown Square, Pa.) to a 3-0 shutout of Cincinnati (11-9, 0-2 Big East) on Saturday afternoon in the middle game of a three-game series this weekend. The Wildcats try for a sweep of their first conference series of the year on Sunday afternoon.
For a good portion of the afternoon, Helisek (3-1, 1.57 ERA) wasn't just in control of the game, but was practically untouchable. After being spotted a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning, he allowed a leadoff double to Jamel Scott in the top of the third inning. The door slammed shut on the Bearcats after that. Helisek retired the next 15 hitters in a row through the end of the seventh inning and then worked around a leadoff walk in the top of the eighth to set down the next three hitters. All told, the sophomore left-hander retired 20 of the last 22 batters he faced for the day. Helisek pitched a season-high eight innings and scattered just three hits while walking two and striking out four.
Francisco struck out the side in the ninth inning to lock down his third save of the season. He got Chris Peters swinging to start the ninth, then allowed a single to Jimmy Jacquot that rocketed back through the box on its way into center field. Francisco then struck out Beach Brooks swinging and got a called third strike on pinch hitter T.J. Jones to cap off Villanova's second straight pitching-dominated victory.
Even on a day when the Wildcats high-powered offense was mostly held in check, the little things still broke right for Villanova. In the bottom of the second inning, the bases were loaded with nobody out after a single, a fielding error and a hit batter. The inning almost to waste, but with two outs Marlon Calbi (Montclair, N.J.) was hit by a pitch to force in David Koczirka (Thornton, Pa.) with an unearned run. It turns out that the tally on the scoreboard would have been plenty of support for the pitching of Helisek and Francisco, but the Wildcats added two insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to really secure the outcome.
Villanova strung together three straight singles in the bottom of the eighth inning to load the bases with one out, but Calbi struck out for the second out of the inning. That brought to the plate Matt Szczur (Erma, N.J.), who extended his hitting streak to nine games with a two-run single up the middle to stretch the Wildcats lead to 3-0. Szczur had been 0-for-3 with a walk on the day before providing the only hit that Villanova would get all day from the top three spots in the batting order.
Justin Bencsko (Pompton Plains, N.J.) and Dain Hall (Barrington, Ill.) have hit nearly as well as Szczur over the past two weeks but were a combined 0-for-7 on Saturday against the Bearcats. And that still wasn't enough to stop them from continuing to influence the team's offense. Both players walked once during the game and each had a stolen base as well.
Tyler Smith (1-3, 3.19) took a hard-luck loss for Cincinnati. He allowed just four hits and no earned runs over six innings pitched, with a walk and two strikeouts on his record. Smith was behind Calbi 2-and-0 to start the bottom of the seventh inning when Sam Slavik took over. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Andrew Strenge entered with two runners on base and one out and allowed both inherited runners to score on Szczur's two-run single.
Offensively, Jacquot went 2-for-4 for the Bearcats, who have managed just nine hits through the first two games of this weekend's series.
Villanova will have Kyle McMyne (Old Forge, Pa.) on the mound in Sunday's series finale as the Wildcats look for the sweep.
NOTES: Villanova's last shutout of a conference opponent came in a 10-0 victory over Seton Hall in the BIG EAST Championship playoffs back on May 22, 2008 ... The Wildcats last regular season BIG EAST shutout was a 1-0 win over Louisville at home on March 24, 2007 ... Helisek has been the starting pitcher in both of Villanova's shutouts this season ... He pitched six scoreless innings in an 11-0 win over Northeastern on March 5 ... The Wildcats have a 3.06 team ERA through the first 20 games of the season ... Through the same number of games last year, the team's ERA was 5.25 ... Szczur is batting .590 (23-39) during his nine-game hitting streak ... Bencsko's stolen base in today's game was his BIG EAST-leading 19th of the season.