SAINT LOUIS – A senior-laden team combined with one of the best pitching staffs to have ever donned a Saint Louis Baseball uniform made the Billikens a dominant group in 2018. After rolling to a regular season title, the team grabbed an Atlantic 10 Championship title to go with it as the squad completed one of the great years in team history.
Saint Louis (38-20, 19-4 A-10) turned heads several times over the course of the year, but at the outset, it was due to its sluggish start. The team went 1-7 over the course of its first two weekends, but the uphill climb began shortly thereafter.
After nabbing just one win over Pittsburg in game two of the season, Saint Louis came home for the first time in 2018 with just one win needing to turn the page. What happened next was not only exactly what the team needed in the win column, but a confidence builder that would pay dividends in the coming months.
The Billikens went on to a 15-game win streak, the longest streak in the NCAA at the time. Three game home sweeps of Chicago State and Oakland gave way to a midweek victory over local rival SIUE, prior to what became the biggest sweep of the season in terms of the national stage.
Purdue came to town looking to course-correct its season in the middle of March, but ran into one of the top teams in NCAA Baseball at the time. Saint Louis made its mark in game one with a dominant 15-1 win over the team from West Lafayette, Ind., setting the tone for the remainder of the series. An 11-9 win in game two of the doubleheader put the Billikens in the drivers’ seat as they finished the series sweep with a 7-3 win the following day. The Boilermakers went on to have a remarkable year where they finished No. 31 in the RPI.
The Billikens followed the Purdue series up with a road test at Iowa where the team in blue came-out on top 7-6, completing a four-game sweep over Big Ten opponents.
The streak came to a head on Friday, March 30 when an equally-hot VCU team came to midtown. The Billikens entered with the longest win streak in NCAA Baseball at 15 in a row, while the Rams were second with a 13-game win streak heading into play. Though Saint Louis dropped the first game, they took the series with a commanding doubleheader sweep on Saturday.
The lone series sweep the Billikens incurred on the season was to a top 20 RPI team in the Jacksonville Dolphins. Also an NCAA Regional qualifier, Jacksonville handed Saint Louis its first extra innings loss of the season 3-2 in 10 innings in game one, which set the stage for two more close losses for the home team.
Though each of the losses were close, Saint Louis showed its resiliency yet again. The team won 10 of its last 14 games of the regular season, complete with an Atlantic 10 Regular Season title. It was the fifth regular season, first place finish, for the team under Head Coach Darin Hendrickson.
Saint Louis entered the Atlantic 10 Tournament the recipient of a first day bye as the champion of the regular season, and used the day of rest to its advantage. The Billikens grabbed the first win over Davidson, a team that had handed them their only conference series loss of the year.
Saint Louis found itself in a dogfight the following afternoon against a team with a large home following in George Mason. The Patriots, just 20 minutes away from their home field, built a 4-1 lead heading into the eighth inning, but as time wound down, the Billikens rose to the challenge. A solo home run from Ryan Hernandez in the eighth inning breathed new life into the offense and may well have caused a pitching change which altered the course of not only the game, but the tournament.
Jared Dicesare, who had cruised through eight innings with just two mistake pitches, was pulled heading into the ninth. Saint Louis had just four hits against the righty, but was pulled in favor of Ryan Ricci. The senior allowed two hits on 15 pitches, and hit a batter before watching as the Patriot bullpen walked-in two Saint Louis runs to tie the game and send it to extras.
The Billikens grabbed the win in the 11th and avoided a dangerous road, which would have sent them to the losers’ bracket, and made them play for their lives on Friday evening and twice on Saturday in order to win. Instead, the victory propelled the team to the championship game on Saturday afternoon where they would have to be beaten twice.
Saint Louis, however, closed the door on George Mason in the first championship game. The Billikens recorded five unanswered runs as Drew Reveno tossed seven innings of shutout baseball. The outing for the junior hurler garnered Most Outstanding Player honors for the San Jose, Calif., native.
The Billikens awaited their fate for the next 36 hours after the elation of the conference title victory, and soon learned that the NCAA Regional they would be sent to was arguably the deepest of all 16 sites.
The team gathered on Monday at Vito’s on Lindell for the watch party and just under 10 minutes into the selection show, learned it would be sent to Oxford, Miss., to play in the Oxford Regional along with Tennessee Tech, Missouri State and Regional host, Ole Miss.
Saint Louis drew the No. 4 team in the nation as its first opponent and delivered the first blow of the bout against the Rebels. Nick Reeser recorded an RBI double in the first to score Alex King, and the Billikens found themselves in the lead after the first inning. Aaron Case singled-in a run in the second, but the 2-0 lead quickly evaporated as the No. 4 team in the nation found its groove with a six-run inning playing in front of nearly 12,000 home fans.
Connor Lehmann entered in the fifth for the Billikens, however, and absolutely dominated. The redshirt junior no-hit the Rebels for five innings as Saint Louis looked ahead to game two after a tough opening loss.
The Billikens took-on Missouri State on Sunday, but even after a ninth-inning rally, were unable to snag the win. Saint Louis jumped-out to a big 4-0 lead in the first inning and after a three-run bottom of the first from Missouri State, plated two more in the second to give themselves a 6-3 lead.
The Bears chipped away at the lead with a run in the second and another in the fourth before a three-run sixth inning put the Billikens down for the first time, 8-6. Saint Louis, however, responded in the final two frames.
Cole Dubet homered in the eighth to cut the deficit to one before a two-out rally in the top of the ninth tied the game. Kyle Fletcher drew a walk before back-to-back singles from Alex King and Nick Reeser tied the game and sent it to the bottom of the ninth.
A leadoff walk and a single put the winning run at second for the Bears before Ryan Lefner found his composure and struck-out the next two batters in a row. A game-winning single from Matt Brown followed, however, which ended the season for Saint Louis and a remarkable year for the team from midtown.
The Major League Baseball first year player draft followed over the course of the next few days and Miller Hogan found a new home in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Hogan, the Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Year, was drafted in the sixth round (180th overall) and became the highest draft pick in Saint Louis history.
On Wednesday, June 6, Alex King was selected in the 35th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks, closing the books on one of the great careers by a shortstop in Saint Louis Baseball history.
Overall, the Billikens set several records as a team. The 2018 Saint Louis squad is new leader for doubles in a season with 125, (pitching) strikeouts in a season with 517, and in opponent batting average in a season with .228.
Hogan became the overall and junior class record holder for strikeouts in a season with 133 and broke John Marcum’s 53-year record in the process. Hogan also, along with Reveno, set a new overall and junior class record for wins in a season with 10 apiece. Jackson Wark tied the old mark with nine victories, and is now ranked third behind his counterparts from the 2018 squad.
The Billikens were honored seven times over the course of the season with Atlantic 10 Pitcher/Player of the Week awards, while the team also received five All-Conference First Team Selections.
In addition to the honors for the players, Coach Darin Hendrickson made his mark in 2018. The seasoned skipper in his 11th year at the helm, became the All-Time winningest head coach in team history. He achieved his record-breaking victory in the final regular season game of the year in a 12-1 win over George Washington. Hendrickson finished with 365 wins and holds an overall winning percentage of .581 in his time at Saint Louis.
After leading his group to a 19-4 conference record, Hendrickson was also named the A-10 Coach of the Year in 2018.
Saint Louis will now enter the offseason focused on recruiting and with its eye on building on its success in the 2019 campaign.