After taking an early lead on Friday, Saint Louis University Baseball fell behind and looked to be on their way to an evening elimination game. A ninth-inning rally followed by 11th inning heroics from two seniors, however, powered the Billikens to an improbable 5-4 win in the semifinals of the 2018 Atlantic 10 Championship over No. 2-seed George Mason.
Saint Louis (37-18) jumped out in front early thanks to a big fly from senior Carter Hanford. The third baseman broke-up a pitcher’s duel up with a solo home run to give the Billikens a 1-0 lead.
Through the first five innings, two dominant pitchers went to work. While George Mason’s Jared DiCesare mowed-down the Billikens in order through the first three innings, Jackson Wark was just as dominant. The junior righty no-hit the Patriots through five and put together the start his team needed in a critical moment.
Wark ran into trouble in the sixth, and the Patriots cashed-in on two runs to take a 2-1 lead. George Mason extended that lead to 4-1 in the seventh, thanks in large part to three consecutive singles to lead-off the inning. After Trevor Kelly drove-in the third run of the game for his team on a single through the left side, Daniel Brooks poked an RBI single into shallow left to run the lead to 4-1.
The Billikens began their comeback bid in the eighth. Ryan Hernandez connected with his fifth home run of the season to cut the deficit to 4-2. This home run proved to be pivotal down the stretch.
Down by a pair headed into the ninth, George Mason lifted DiCesare after eight impressive innings after tossing just 91 pitches. The bullpen, however, was unable to hold the Billiken bats as the heart of the order came to the plate.
Closer Ryan Ricci entered and allowed a pair of singles to Alex King and Nick Reeser before hitting Jake Garella to load the bases for Parker Sniatynski.
The Billiken left fielder drew a bases-loaded walk to bring Saint Louis within one. Still with just one out, Hanford drew the second bases-loaded walk of the inning, which tied the game and sent everyone to extra innings.
Saint Louis broke through once again in the 11th. James Morisano made the most of a pinch-hitting opportunity to lead-off the inning. The senior backstop launched a double to center field on the first pitch he saw to put the game winner in scoring position. After advancing on a throwing error off a Sniatynski bunt, Morisano stood 90 feet away from a Billiken victory.
Hanford, who had tied the game on a walk just two innings prior, provided the game winner on a walk-off single down the left field line and gave the Billikens a shot at an Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship on Saturday.
The Billikens will now play the winner of the nightcap featuring George Mason and the winner of George Washington and Richmond. Since Saint Louis is the last remaining undefeated team, they must lose twice heading into Saturday’s Championship tilt. A title game loss will force an if-necessary game 30 minutes following game one.
With inclement weather predicted in the Washington D.C. area on Saturday, first pitch has been moved up one hour and is now scheduled for 10:00 a.m. CDT.