ST. LOUIS - Saint Louis claimed a share of the regular season crown and earned the top seed in next week's Atlantic 10 Conference Championship with a 2-1 win over co-champion Charlotte. Sophomore Nick Bates picks up the win after throwing 6.1 innings with five strikeouts and two walks. Freshman Matt Eckelman gets his third save after facing six batters, retiring all of them, and striking out three. The Billikens wrap up the regular season with a 36-18 record overall and 17-7 in conference play. It is the second-most wins in a season in SLU history.
Today's game was filled with excellent displays of pitching and defense. Both teams were held scoreless through the first four innings of work. In the top of the fifth, Charlotte opened the scoring with an RBI single through the right side. In the bottom of the frame, Grant Nelson singled up the middle to start the Billiken rally. Senior Mike Levine was hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second. Junior Danny Brennan laid an excellent sacrifice bunt to move Nelson and Levine into scoring position with one out. Freshman Braxton Martinez lifted a sacrifice fly to deep center to tie the game and move Levine to third. Levine later scored on a tough play up the middle that allowed Alec Solé to reach safely. Through five innings, SLU led 2-1.
The Niners threatened throughout the game. One of the top defensive plays of the season came in the seventh inning. Bates ran into a little trouble, with runners at second and third and one out. Senior southpaw Jon Levin entered the game, making his SLU record 85th appearance. The Charlotte hitter lifted the second pitch he saw into left field. Freshman Michael Bozarth set up behind the fly ball with Charlotte's leadoff hitter tagging at third. Bozarth caught and fired home, nailing the potential tying run at the plate for his 11th outfield assist of the season.
In the eighth, Eckelman entered the game for SLU and threw like a veteran. He faced six batters in two innings, striking out three. His fastball was up to 92 mph and his off-speed pitches kept Charlotte guessing. In his six outs, Eckelman threw a mere 18 pitches.
The win clinched the top spot in the A-10 tournament for Saint Louis, the second consecutive season the Billikens have earned the honor. The Bills' first game will be at 9:00 a.m. CT on Thursday, May 23. Saint Louis will play the winner of the first game of the tournament between four seed Xavier and five seed George Washington.