Billikens Take on South Carolina on ESPN2
Courtesy: Saint Louis Athletics

The Saint Louis Billikens will compete in the Columbia, S.C. Regional in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. It is the Billikens’ third trip to the NCAA tournament in the past seven seasons and their sixth trip in school history. In 1965, SLU advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

For the first time, ESPN will air every game of the 2013 NCAA Tournament on one of its outlets. Saint Louis' first game will be televised on ESPN2. It is believed to be the first time in school history that the baseball team has competed on national television.

The Bills open competition against the South Carolina Gamecocks on May 31 at 6:00 p.m. CT. The Gamecocks have advanced to the national championship game in each of the past three seasons, winning the CWS in 2010 and 2011. South Carolina is led at the plate by L.B. Dantzler, who owns a .332 batting average, a .648 slugging percentage and a .445 on-base percentage. He is one of the top power threats in the NCAA with 15 home runs, 13th in the NCAA. The Gamecocks boast an impressive pitching staff that ranks third in the NCAA in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.30). Southpaw Nolan Belcher is the expected starter against SLU. He has a 7-5 record with a 2.30 ERA, 88 strikeouts and 15 walks.

On the other side of the Regional, the Clemson Tigers will take on the Liberty Flames. The fleet-footed Tigers are 15th in the NCAA in stolen bases with 110. They are led at the plate by Shane Kennedy who hits .317 with a .439 slugging percentage and a .413 on-base percentage. He is fourth in the ACC with 22 swipes. On the bump, Daniel Gossett leads the Tigers with a 9-4 record. In 92.1 IP, he holds a 2.53 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 33 walks.

Liberty’s Trey Wimmer is one of the top catchers in the NCAA. He was named to the Johnny Bench Award watch list and earned first-team All-Big South accolades. He hits .303 with a .452 slugging percentage and a .371 on-base percentage. The top arm for the Flames is Brooks Roy who has a 7-5 record over 87.2 IP. He has a 3.39 ERA with 51 strikeouts and 28 walks.

The Billikens have never faced any team in the Columbia Regional.

The Billikens made a historical run to capture their third Atlantic 10 tournament title and return to the NCAA tournament. The Billikens won five games in three days, including four in 27 hours. Saint Louis’ hot bats kept the team alive in the consolation bracket. As a team, SLU collected 92 hits in six days (.395 average), shattering the previous A-10 Tournament record of 65. They also broke the tournament record with eight HR. Senior OF Alex Kelly was named the tournament MVP after breaking the tournament records in hits (15) and RBIs (13). He hit .536 with a .929 slugging percentage and a .533 on-base percentage. Freshman OF Michael Bozarth tied the tournament record for individual HR with three, the first three HR of his career.

Saint Louis had six Billikens named to the All-Conference team, two to the All-Rookie team, one to the All-Academic team and the co-Player of the Year. Mike Vigliarolo was named the co-Player of the year, the first time a Billiken has won the honor in the A-10 and is believed to be the first such honor in school history. He was joined on the first team by Grant Nelson, Alec Solé and Alex Kelly. Clay Smith and Mike Levine were named to the second team. Freshmen Braxton Martinez and Matt Eckelman were All-Rookie selections. Alex Alemann earned Academic All-Conference plaudits.

SLU has 247 walks this season, most in the Atlantic 10 and 37th nationally. Grant Nelson leads the Billikens with 37 walks drawn. Since head coach Darin Hendrickson took over in 2008, the Billikens have ranked in the top three of the Atlantic 10 in walks drawn in each season. They led the league with 268 walks in 2012, which ranked 19th in the NCAA.

Saint Louis has hit 43 home runs this season, the most in the A-10 and 27th in the NCAA. Alex Kelly leads the Bills with 11 round-trippers (44th in NCAA) and is followed closely by Mike Vigliarolo with eight (tied for second in A-10).

Senior RHP Alex Alemann is the NCAA’s active leader in career games started (61) and career innings pitched (397.1), while ranking fifth in career victories (27). His 266 career strikeouts are 18th among all Division I pitchers and his 10 complete games are 19th.

The Billiken bullpen has had a terrific season thus far. Five different pitchers have made 16 or more appearances and five hurlers have recorded at least one save. On the season, the Bills have 203.1 innings in relief with 182 hits, 65 earned runs and 174 strikeouts to 92 walks. The pen has a combined 2.88 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP.

In the first three innings, SLU has outscored opponents 159-100 and are 23-8 when scoring first in a contest

With a 2-0 win over Richmond on April 28, SLU sealed its 30th win of the season. It is the sixth time in school history a Billiken team has reached the 30-win plateau. Four of these seasons have come under head coach Darin Hendrickson. After the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship, the Bills won 41 games, tying the school record set last season. Hendrickson has set the wins record three times in his six seasons.

Mike Levine had a 14-game hitting streak broken on April 16 against Wash U. He went on to have a season-best 22 game on base streak that was broken on May 5 at VCU. The longest hitting streak for the Billikens this season belongs Mike Vigliarolo, who had a 16 game streak snapped in the A-10 tournament. He is currently riding a 21-game on-base streak. Alec Solé has the team’s longest active hitting streak at 14 games.

The Billiken offense has been firing on all cylinders in 2013. In 60 games, the Billikens have had 37 games of 10 or more hits. SLU has reached the 10-hit plateau in each of its last six games. Six Billikens have had at least 20 multiple-hit games this season.

Saint Louis has five freshmen hitters and three freshmen pitchers who are contributing for the Billikens this season. Braxton Martinez leads SLU freshmen in batting average (.318) and slugging percentage (.450) and leadoff man Michael Bozarth leads in on-base percentage (.394). On the hill, Matt Eckelman has been one of the Bills’ top relievers posting a 6-0 record and a 1.71 ERA in 42 IP. All said, the Billiken freshmen are hitting .295 with a .416 slugging percentage and a .386 on-base percentage. On the mound, they are 10-2 with a 3.11 ERA, 105 strikeouts and 51 walks.

Saint Louis has four big hitters that are leading the Billikens’ juggernaut offense. Mike Vigliarolo (.536), Alex Kelly (.546), Braxton Martinez (.464) and Grant Nelson (.468) are each in the top 15 in the A-10 in slugging percentage. The foursome has combined for 31 home runs this season, more than any other TEAM in the A-10 (Saint Joseph’s is the closest with 27).

The Billikens’ recent success is due largely in part to great pitching. Only four teams in SLU history have finished the season with a sub-4.00 ERA. Saint Louis has achieved the feat in each of the past two seasons, and currently has a 3.58 ERA in 2013.

Junior RHP Clay Smith earned his second Pitcher of the Week honor on May 20, the last honor of the 2013 season. A day after Charlotte claimed a share of the A-10 regular season title, Smith threw a complete-game one-hitter against the Niners, giving SLU a chance to earn a share of the regular-season crown. Entering the series, the 49ers were hitting .292 as a team, but Smith held them to a .034 average against him.

Mike Vigliarolo and Clay Smith were named the A-10 Player and Co-Pitcher of the Week, respectively on April 29. Against Richmond, Vigliarolo was 8-12 with three doubles, three home runs, four RBIs and four runs scored. He posted a slugging percentage of 1.667 and a .667 on-base percentage. Smith closed out the series with a complete game shutout with eight strikeouts and only two hits. Smith carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning.

Braxton Martinez was named the A-10 Rookie of the Week on April 8 after leading the Bills to a series sweep of Butler. He hit .500 with a .550 on-base percentage and a .812 slugging on the week. Martinez is one of the top freshman hitters in the A-10 and leads all rookies in average, on-base and slugging.

Alex Kelly earned weekly honors on March 25 for his efforts the week ending March 24. Kelly opened conference play with a bang, leading SLU to a sweep of defending A-10 tournament champion Dayton. Against the Flyers, he was 5-12 with two doubles, a home run and eight RBIs. Additionally, Kelly had a home run and three RBIs against in-state foe Southeast Missouri State.

Grant Nelson was named the Atlantic 10 Player of the Week for the week ending March 10. Nelson helped lead the Billikens to wins over San Diego and Michigan in the University of San Diego Tournament. In five games, he hit .467 with a .619 on-base percentage and a .533 slugging percentage. Against powerhouse San Diego, Nelson went two-for-three against All-America pitcher Michael Wagner.

Darin Hendrickson entered his sixth season with a career record of 492-227 at NCAA four-year institutions (157-127 at Saint Louis). Entering the 2013 season, his career win percentage was .684, ranking him tenth among active NCAA Division I head coaches. Hendrickson is the reigning Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year after leading the Billikens to a school-record 41 wins and a A-10 Regular Season Co-Championship.