COLUMBIA — Before the most important game of the season, on Sunday, Manhattan pitching coach Elvys Quezada asked senior Taylor Sewitt how many innings he thought he could throw.
Sewitt threw 37 pitches Saturday in relief and 106 Friday in a 1-0 complete game victory that sustained Manhattan’s season after it opened the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament with a loss Thursday.
Now, on Sunday, the Jaspers were in the championship game against Canisius, and because the MAAC is a one-bid league, only the winner would advance to the NCAA tournament. What, Quezada wondered, could Sewitt give his team if called upon in relief?
“Nine innings,” Sewitt joked. Quezada laughed, and said, “No, seriously, how much can you throw?”
Sewitt guessed probably four or five innings, at the most. In the first inning, Quezada inserted Sewitt after starter Matt Jordan allowed two runs without getting anybody out.
“I’m going to ride you out and see how long you can go,” Quezada told Sewitt.
What followed was one of college baseball’s greatest pitching performances this season, if not ever. Sewitt threw 153 pitches over 11 scoreless innings and the Jaspers won 3-2 in the 11th.
He finished the MAAC tournament with 22 scoreless innings and 296 pitches in three days, almost single-handedly putting the Jaspers into this weekend’s NCAA regional in Columbia, where they will face South Carolina today at 4 p.m. — a game Sewitt will start.
Sewitt’s uncommon weekend epitomizes this Manhattan team, which started 1-14 against a challenging non-conference schedule, then went 18-6 in the MAAC and won the league tournament for the second straight year.
Manhattan is a small school, with 3,000 students, in a low-key part of the country’s biggest city. It is located in Riverdale, just north of Manhattan Island, at the last stop on the No. 1 train.
The Jaspers play at sprawling Van Cortlandt Park, and because it is a city park, they must maintain their field. Before every season, they set up the metal outfield fence, and take it down when the season ends — the one part of the field maintenance they hate. They chalk the foul lines before games, and Sewitt rakes the mound. They went 18-0 there this season.
“After all the work we do getting the field ready to play, we almost can’t lose those games,” Sewitt said.
Sewitt spent most of his college career grasping for a role more significant than mound raking. He came to Manhattan as a shortstop, switched to reliever as a sophomore and battled shoulder tendinitis that limited his velocity to the low 80s. Last May, at the suggestion of assistant Rene Ruiz, Sewitt began throwing with a submarine delivery.
Sewitt discovered the motion let him throw longer without pain and increased his velocity to the mid-80s. In last year’s regional, he allowed one run in five innings of relief against Florida, which lost to USC for the national championship. He began this season as a reliever, became a starter and is now 11-1 with a 2.40 earned-run average in 22 appearances, including six starts.
“How he has evolved as a player is a pretty remarkable story,” said first-year Manhattan coach Jim Duffy.
While it isn’t finished yet, Sewitt knows he probably won’t play much if any pro ball. So he was willing to push his arm in Sunday’s title game, though he said, “I could’ve thrown more that game.”
About 300 people attended it in Troy, N.Y. Sewitt said it’s a “dream” to play in front of 25 times that many fans today in Columbia.
Meanwhile, back in Van Cortlandt Park, the outfield fence is still up.
USC will start Colby Holmes today rather than regular Friday starter Michael Roth, who will start Saturday. ... Forrest Koumas (elbow) has been activated for this weekend. Either he or Jordan Montgomery will start USC’s third game, should there be one. ... Catcher Grayson Greiner, out this weekend with a torn meniscus in his knee, should be ready for the Super Regional if USC advances, but probably won’t be able to catch. He had surgery Thursday. ... Clemson will throw No. 2 starter Kevin Pohle today against Coastal Carolina. Regular Friday starter Dominic Leone went home to Connecticut because of a death in his family, but will be back today and likely will start Saturday, though Clemson coach Jack Leggett said he hadn’t determined who will start beyond Pohle.