ST. LOUIS, MO- After his team’s 4-3 win over Saint Louis on Friday night, Davidson head coach Dick Cooke mentioned that he was particularly pleased with the performance of that night’s starting pitcher, Allen Barry, because the Billikens are, in his estimation, the best offense in the Atlantic 10.
Cooke called out the fact that all nine guys in the Saint Louis lineup scare you, and you saw why during Sunday’s game, an 11-3 Billikens win that got everyone into the act.
Seven of the nine hitters in the SLU starting lineup had hits, and the two who didn’t, Kyle Fletcher and Aaron Case, contributed in other ways. Fletcher was hit by a pitch and also drove in a run, while Case scored a run and drove in a run. Six of the nine starters had an RBI. Eight of the nine starters scored a run.
When you get that kind of production one through nine, you have the luxury of moving pieces around in the lineup interchangeably, and Saint Louis head coach Darin Hendrickson certainly did so on Sunday, when he sent out a somewhat unusual batting order. Case, the typical leadoff hitter, was hitting ninth. Fletcher, who’s now only started 12 games this season, hit leadoff. Cole Dubet, who had hit eighth earlier in the series, hit second, and just about everyone else found themselves in a spot at least slightly different from where they usually hit.
“I think the A-10 is pretty even,” Hendrickson said. “There’s a lot of teams that scare you depending on what park they’re at, who’s pitching, and all that stuff. I think what makes us good is that we really are interchangeable one through nine. I wrote a whole different lineup today (Sunday), trying to just shake the tree.”
And it clearly worked. The Billikens scored early and often Sunday, putting up two runs in each of the first five innings, pushing things out of reach barely an hour after the first pitch had been thrown. Long story short, when you have this type of depth in your lineup, you can shake things up when the offense struggles, as they had the first two games of the series, without much fear of getting anyone too deep over their head.
Cooke might just be making his assessment qualitatively and based on what he’s seen elsewhere in the conference, but the stats back him up as well, as Saint Louis is first or second in the league in just about every major category. They’re second in batting average (.281), second in on-base percentage (.375), first in slugging percentage (.443), second in hits (450), first in doubles (105), second in triples (15), second in home runs (43), and second in walks (202).
This type of lineup depth doesn’t just happen by accident or overnight, mind you. At a mid-major program, where you simply aren’t going to get as many ready-made mashers as you do in the SEC or other major conferences, development is huge, and you see several obvious examples in the SLU everyday lineup.
Alex King, a four-year starter at shortstop, has gone from being a contact hitter with one total home run between his freshman and sophomore seasons to a guy who currently leads the Atlantic 10 in homers with 11. Parker Sniatynski, another four-year starter, has hit better than .300 over his first three seasons, but he didn’t really tap into his unique power/speed combination completely until breaking out this spring. He’s now the team leader in doubles with 16, is second on the club in homers with seven, and leads the team in stolen bases with 17, after having stolen a total of 20 prior to the 2018 season.
Jake Garella had a solid freshman campaign in 2017, hitting .298 with an on-base percentage over .400 as a semi-regular in the lineup, but this season, he helps pace the offense, hitting .353/.406/.444 with 13 doubles.
Cole Dubet, who had an outstanding weekend against Davidson, going 6-for-12 with three doubles and a home run, looks poised to really break out down the stretch and set career-highs in just about every offensive category. After hitting no more than three home runs in either of his first two seasons, he has four already this season, and barring something unforeseen, he’s likely to surpass his previous career-highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Currently, he’s at .296/.374/.434.
“He’s (Dubet) been a steady player. He’s played a lot of innings, and done a really good job for us as far as being a climber and improver,” Hendrickson said. “He goes out there everyday and gets a big hit, hits a home run when we need it, and seems to get big hits against Davidson. He had a big home run last year to salvage a game.”
We learned this past weekend, with their series win over Saint Louis, that Davidson is going to be game in the Atlantic 10 tournament once again, and the likes of Fordham, VCU, George Washington, and others will have something to say about it, but with this type of offensive depth and a pitching staff led by former and future MLB draft pick Miller Hogan, high-end talent Jackson Wark (a former MLB draft pick as well), and Drew Reveno, who Hendrickson calls the best Sunday starter in the league, the Billikens are going to be a very tough out.
Davidson (30-16, 14-7)
Dick Cooke’s club took another step in catching league-leading Saint Louis by winning their series over the Billikens this past weekend.
After an outstanding pitching performance from starter Allen Barry on Friday in a 4-3 win (which we chronicled here), Davidson put together a wild seventh inning to win Saturday’s game 9-5. Trailing 2-0 as they went into the top of the seventh, the Wildcats plated nine runs, chasing Saint Louis starter Jackson Wark and two other relievers from the game in that inning alone.
After station-to-station baseball drove in runs on an RBI single from Max Bazin, an RBI double from Andrew Born, and then two more RBI singles from Alec Acosta and Brett Centracchio, Justin Lebek put the exclamation point on the inning with a grand slam.
Saint Louis salvaged the final game of the series by an 11-3 score, keeping Davidson somewhat at arm’s length, but with the series win, the Wildcats pull to within 2.5 games of the league-leading Billikens.
Fordham (30-15-1, 12-6)
Fordham kept their quality season rolling by coming back to win their series over Dayton after dropping the Friday game.
The two wins, a 10-3 victory on Saturday and a 3-1 triumph on Sunday, followed a familiar script for Fordham offensively. With no batter hitting over .300 for the season, they’re an offense that isn’t carried by any one player, but with a team slash line of .276/.365/.396, they’re not a poor offense by any stretch of the imagination, and the production is typically spread out throughout the lineup.
In the Saturday win, as part of a 15-hit attack, every starter had at least one hit, led by a 3-for-3 day for Jake Baker. Sunday was an even better example of this, as the Rams collected eight total hits, with eight of the nine starters collecting a hit. That means that just about everybody got a hit, but no one had more than one.
Fordham’s season has been marked by outstanding starting pitching performances from Ben Greenberg (6-1, 2.35 ERA, .220 OBA), Reiss Knehr (4-3, 2.91 ERA, 70 K), and Anthony DiMeglio (7-1, 3.44 ERA, 80/20 K/BB), and this weekend, it was DiMeglio who put up the best start. In the win on Sunday, he threw seven innings, giving up six hits and one run with three walks and seven strikeouts.
Picked eighth in the A-10 preseason poll, the Rams find themselves in third place and just a half-game behind Davidson for second place.
George Washington (27-20, 11-7)
The Colonials dropped both ends of a doubleheader on Saturday to lose their series with George Mason, but the win on Friday was one to celebrate, a 1-0 victory headlined by a masterful performance form Jaret Edwards on the mound. He threw a one-hit shutout with no walks and six strikeouts.
That type of performance from the sophomore righty continues what has been a breakout season for him. After putting up a 4.91 ERA as a reliever a season ago, Edwards is 4-0 with a 2.39 ERA in 60.1 innings across 12 appearances, nine of which have been starts. Along the way, he’s held opponents to a .246 batting average and has walked only nine.
GW is currently tied for fourth place with George Mason in the A-10 standings, which is both good and bad news as it relates to their A-10 tournament chances. The good news is that it puts them in solid position to make it into the field as it stands today, but the bad news is that this series loss could be a painful tiebreaker if the two teams end up tied at the end of the season.
George Mason (21-24, 11-7)
By winning two of three against George Washington this past weekend, with both wins coming as part of a Saturday doubleheader, George Mason greatly advanced their odds of getting into the A-10 tournament here in a couple of weeks. They current sit in a tie for fourth, with GW, and are a full two games ahead of eighth place. With the toughest A-10 series of the year behind them, and only very winnable series against Saint Joseph’s and LaSalle in front of them, you have to like their chances.
The best start of the weekend actually came in the 1-0 loss on Friday, when the Patriots got an eight-inning complete game from Zach Mort, who gave up five hits and one run along the way, but they got another solid outing in game three, a 4-3 win, when Jared DiCesare threw a complete game of his own, giving up four hits and three runs with one walk and five strikeouts. Mort, by the way, has been one of the best pitchers in the A-10 this season. He’s 5-3 with a 2.10 ERA, an absurd 92/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .218 opponent batting average in 85.2 innings of work.
Overall, George Mason has done a good job of turning around what looked like it might be a really tough season early on. They’ve gone 21-16 since beginning the season 0-8, including being on the wrong end of a four-game sweep at the hands of Butler.
VCU (29-19, 12-9)
VCU dropped a key series with rival Richmond over the weekend, with 4-2 and 3-0 losses sandwiched around a 3-1 win.
In the win, they got a very nice outing from veteran Sean Thompson, who threw 6.2 innings, giving up five hits and one run with three walks and three strikeouts. On the season, he’s now 7-1 with a 2.90 ERA, a 63/22 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .226 opponent batting average in a team-leading 77.2 innings. Reliever Benjamin Dum got his third save of the season in that game after throwing the final 2.1 innings. He has a 1.19 ERA on the season with a 35/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .191 opponent batting average in 37.2 innings.
The series loss puts the Rams in a precarious situation as the Atlantic 10 tournament approaches. They’re now sitting sixth in the league standings, just a half-game up on the Spiders, and just one-and-a-half games up on the hottest team in the league, Rhode Island. That makes things sticky enough, but they also only have one more conference series left to play, a tough road set with George Washington this coming weekend. With a series loss there, if things don’t break their way, they could be left home.
Richmond (24-20, 10-8)
With their series win over VCU, the Spiders currently sit in seventh place in the A-10 and hold what would be the final spot in the tournament, if the season were to end today.
The victories over the weekend, by 4-2 and 3-0 scores, were all about pitching, pitching, and more pitching. In Friday’s 13-inning 4-2 win, they got a solid start from Tim Miller (5.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R), but just as impressive were the pair of three-inning relief outings from Layne Looney (3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K) and Dalton Light (3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K). Those two completely shut down the VCU offense late in the game.
In the finale, starting pitcher Robbie Baker did it all himself by throwing a complete-game shutout, giving up just two hits and one walk with six strikeouts along the way. Baker is 7-1 on the season with a 2.56 ERA, a 61/20 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .195 opponent batting average in 66.2 innings.
Rhode Island (19-25, 9-9)
The Rams swept their series over the weekend with LaSalle, as they continue their push to get into the A-10 tournament, which, in something of a wonky setup, takes the top seven teams from the conference. With the sweep, Rhody currently sits eighth, just one game behind Richmond for the final spot in the field. But their prognosis looks good, as their remaining two series, at Dayton and home for St. Bonaventure, are very winnable, and perhaps no one in the league is playing as well as they are now, as they’ve won 11 consecutive games.
In Saturday’s 2-1 win against the Explorers, they got a classic Tyler Wilson performance. The veteran lefty threw seven innings, giving up three hits and one unearned run with two walks and ten strikeouts. Wilson, in his comeback season from injuries that cost him much of the 2017 season, took some lumps early in the campaign, but he’s been just what the doctor ordered for URI in A-10 play. In conference play, he has a 2.02 ERA and a 38/7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35.2 innings, compared to his 3.36 ERA and 60/19 K/BB mark overall.
It hasn’t been the season Raphael Cerrato’s team would have hoped for so far, but Wilson in his most dominant form, as you saw on Saturday, gives the team plenty of hope for a run in the A-10 tourney, should they do enough to get there.
Dayton (14-29, 6-12)
Dayton got off to a quick start in their series against Fordham, as they collected a 4-1 win on Friday, but they weren’t able to keep it going through the weekend, as they dropped the final two games to drop the series.
In the 4-1 victory to kick off the series, Connor Echols and Austin Cline led the way.
Echols did so at the plate. He had just one hit on the day, but he made it count, as he launched a three-run home run in the top of the seventh inning to break a 1-1 tie, putting his team ahead for good. Meanwhile, Cline dominated on the mound, throwing a complete game, giving up just three hits and one run with two walks and 12 strikeouts.
Cline has had a bit of a strange season for the Flyers. With an ERA of 6.89 even after the shutout of Fordham, he’s clearly had his struggles, but he also has two shutouts on the season. In addition to the one he collected this past weekend, he also threw a three-hit shutout against Ball State back in mid-March.
St. Bonaventure (9-28, 5-11)
The Bonnies were out of conference play this past weekend and suffered a sweep at the hands of Canisius by scores of 11-0, 15-8, and 6-5.
They had a shot in the final game of the series, as they had leads of 2-0, 3-1, and 4-2 at different points, and went into the ninth inning locked in a 5-5 tie before a run-scoring double-play ball allowed the go-ahead Golden Griffins run to score.
That particular loss spoiled a big day at the plate for Casey Vincent, who went 2-for-3 with a home run, three RBI, and two runs scored.
Massachusetts (14-23, 5-13)
UMass was out of conference play last weekend and split a pair of games with Stony Brook, a 4-3 win, and Bryant, an 8-2 loss.
Staff ace Justin Lasko came through again in the win over the Seawolves. He threw 7.2 innings, giving up seven hits and three runs (two earned) with one walk and seven strikeouts. On the season, he’s 4-3 with a 2.82 ERA in 67 innings of work. Offensively, they got a huge game from leadoff man Nolan Kessinger, who went 4-for-5 with two RBI, raising his season average to .285 with a .379 on-base percentage, both good for second on the team behind Eddy Hart.
In the loss to Bryant, starter Sean Harney wasn’t able to replicate Lasko’s success, but the Minutemen did get quality relief work from the trio of Ben Shields (3.1 IP, 1 ER, 4 K), Carter Knapek (2.1 IP, 1 R, 0 ER), and Kevin Hassett (0.2 IP, 0 R).
Saint Joseph’s (18-24, 4-12)
The Hawks were another A-10 team playing out of conference last weekend, winning a pair of games against New Jersey Tech.
In game one, an 8-1 Saint Joe’s win, they got a great outing from veteran starter Tim Brennan (6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K) and a big day at the plate from Marc Giacalone (3-for-4, 2 RBI, 2 R).
In game two, a 3-0 win, they got a complete-game shutout from Justin Aungst, who allowed just six hits and no walks to go along with five strikeouts.
LaSalle (14-34, 4-14)
The Explorers were swept by Rhode Island this past weekend, dropping them to 4-14 in A-10 play.
One quality arm emerging for LaSalle is that of reliever Connor Hinchcliffe, who enjoyed his best outing of the season on Saturday, throwing four shutout innings, giving up just two hits. In his last five appearances, dating back to the UMass series, he’s given up just two earned runs in his last ten innings of work.
Hinchcliffe stepping up and delivering quality innings would be a huge boon to a bullpen led by the likes of Mike Anthony (4.30 ERA, 29.1 IP), Nick Mancuso (4.35 ERA, 20.2 IP), and Sebastian Martinez (5.03 ERA, 19.2 IP).