New Coach Building SLU Baseball Program

When he stands in the home dugout at the Billiken Sports Complex and surveys the baseball field and surrounding areas, Saint Louis University baseball coach Darin Hendrickson can see proof that his program can one day get to where he wants it to be.

Just beyond the center field fence looms the new $81 million Chaifetz Arena, which serves as a constant reminder that the university took a huge step forward in trying to take its basketball programs to another level.

Now, Hendrickson and other SLU coaches will hope that Saint Louis U. makes a similar commitment to other athletic programs and devotes the resources necessary for those programs to compete at the highest level as well.

"I saw a lot of potential at SLU and I need to stand by that," Hendrickson said. "I do stand by that. People can speculate. It's easy to complain about something, but it's harder to roll up your sleeves and get going."

Hendrickson, in his first season as the Billikens baseball, is doing his part.

After winning two out of three games against Fordham last weekend, Saint Louis is 11-12 overall and 2-4 in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

The Billikens went 16-37 a year ago in the final of 19 seasons for former coach Bob Hughes, and have had only had two winning seasons (1996 and 2006) in the last 30 years.

Hendrickson, who previously coached at Division II Central Missouri State and Forest Park Community College, is working hard to change the stigma and the image of SLU baseball.

"The program needed a shake-up," he said.

Part of that shake-up included playing the St. Louis Cardinals in an exhibition game on Feb. 27 in Florida. The Billikens lost 15-2 but gained some much-needed exposure locally that should help in recruiting.

SLU's 4-0 victory over Ohio State on March 19 in Florida showed that the Atlantic 10 Conference squad could compete with, and beat, a school from a major conference.

"I'm really proud of our kids with the way they've taken to the new staff and won 11 games with our schedule when we've played five games at home," Hendrickson said.

The Billikens lost eight of their first 10 games in late February and early March. From that point, SLU has won nine games and lost five — with three of those losses coming on the road at A-10 favorite Charlotte.

"The team has shown me flashes of being very good and therefore I've pushed on the gas pretty hard," Hendrickson said. "Maybe we can do it this year. The Atlantic 10 is wide open after Charlotte."

The starting pitching rotation — led by juniors Scott Turmail and Dave Sever and sophomore Zach Outman — has anchored the team.

Scott Turmail
Turmail, who graduated from Hazelwood Central and played at Long Beach State and then Forest Park Community College before heading to SLU, is 4-1 with one save and a 3.47 earned-run average in 46 2/3 innings.

Sever, who went 7-3 a year ago, is 1-4 with a 5.53 ERA in 40 2/3 innings. Outman, a Lindbergh graduate who played at Forest Park last year, is 2-3 with a 4.63 ERA in 35 innings.

Beyond those three right-handers, the Billikens' bullpen has struggled.

"It's been a rotating door and it hasn't been solved," Hendrickson said.

The coach said that the hitting has improved dramatically lately.

Senior shortstop Ryan Bennett leads SLU with his .458 batting average, but has only played in 10 games and started six. Sophomore infielder Mike Beal, who graduated from nearby St. Louis University High and played at Glendale (AZ) Community College last season, is batting .344.

Junior infielder Tom Pinnell (Edwardsville, Ill.) is hitting .321 with two home runs, 13 RBIs and seven stolen bases in 23 games. Sophomore center fielder J.D. Dunn has stolen a team-high 15 bases in 16 attempts and has driven in 15 RBIs. Senior switch-hitting first baseman Greg Rodgers, from Francis Howell High, leads the team with 20 RBIs.

Hendrickson is working hard in recruiting to improve the team's talent.

SLU signed eight players in the early signing period. One of those players, Jerry Mancuso from Kansas City Rockhurst, could contribute as a left-handed hitting third baseman or a right-handed pitcher.

Perfect Game USA recently ranked SLU's recruiting class in its top 100 and pointed to right-handed pitcher Garrett Cooper from Southington, Conn., as the Billikens' top-rated recruit.

Hendrickson isn't done recruiting for next season.

"We think the guys we are bringing in and our continuing to recruit this spring are really going to be impact guys," he said.

But Hendrickson knows this year's squad is still capable of winning more games, especially considering there are eight more series against A-10 teams coming up in the next month and a half. If the Billikens can gain the consistency they've lacked so far this season and find a way to close out and win the close games, they could become a factor in the league standings.

"Our goal is to make the A-10 tournament and let it all happen at the end," Hendrickson said. "I think that's an achievable goal. These kids have been through a lot … and they've weathered the storm. I'd like to see it through for them."

As for the future, Hendrickson looks at successful college programs like Tulane and Rice and sees schools with strong academic programs like SLU and sees baseball programs that have won many games over the years.

"Until we have some facility improvements," he said, "we won't get to that level."

But the improvements are coming slowly.

A new outfield wall was put in. Someone donated bricks for the area behind home plate. They will be putting pine trees out beyond the center field fence in April that will serve as a good hitting backdrop.

"If we're really going to do it right, it has to come from the very top," the coach said. "… We just need to deliver. We don't need to say we're going to do this and do that.

Hendrickson has done his part since taking over last summer. He's trying to change the stigma and the image of SLU baseball and build the Billikens into a winning program.

"You're going to have to win baseball games and that's going to open peoples' eyes," Hendrickson said.

Hendrickson, who won his 500th game when SLU defeated Fordham on Friday, knows the potential of the Saint Louis program and is doing whatever he can to try to get there.

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