SLU Baseball Off To Strong Start

The Saint Louis University baseball team, which defeated Northern Illinois 7-2 on Wednesday afternoon for the Billikens' fifth consecutive victory, is off to its best start in decades under second-year coach Darin Hendrickson.

Wednesday's win put Saint Louis U. at 9-4 to start the season, which is the best record after 13 games that the Billikens have had since they began the 1977 campaign with a 12-4 mark.

"I just knew we were playing well and want to keep it going," Hendrickson said.

Saint Louis went 24-29 in Hendrickson's first season, including a 9-17 mark in the Atlantic 10 Conference. But the former Central Missouri State coach calls his situation "a whole different animal" this year, with a large recruiting class that has changed the make-up of the program.

The newcomers have blended with the returning players to form a solid nucleus that the Billikens coach thinks will set the program up to win in the long haul.

"I think everybody's kind of settled down," Hendrickson said. "We have a new hero every night. We have some new guys who are doing good things. They energize the team. Our pitching has been solid. Our hitting has come around lately."

The pitching staff is anchored by senior righthanders Scott Turmail (2-0, 4.32) and Dave Sever (2-0, 1.83), who combined for 13 of the Billikens' 24 wins a year ago as the team's top two starters.

That duo has been bolstered by the addition of junior righthander Bryant Cotton, who transferred from Butler County Community College in Kansas. Butler is 2-1 with a 2.42 earned-run average after a strong outing on Tuesday against Northern Illinois, in which he allowed one run over seven innings and retired 18 straight batters at one point.

Junior righthander Zach Outman (1-1, 4.08), who struck out a career-high nine batters in six innings on Wednesday, gives the team some flexibility as a starter or reliever, like Cotton.

Senior righthander Chaz Salembier has emerged as the Billikens' closer. In 5 2/3 innings this season, he is 1-0 with two saves and has not allowed an earned run while striking out seven and walking one.

"Last year we really struggled at the end of the games," Hendrickson said. "… This year we have good middle relief and a solid bona fide closer at the end."

The lineup has benefited from some newcomers, including freshmen and junior college transfers, as well as returning players like senior shortstop Ryan Bennett (.394), junior center fielder J.D. Dunn (.327) and junior right fielder Andrew Guerra (.286, three homers, 10 RBIs).

Freshmen Zach Miller and Jerry Mancuso have made impacts early. Miller, a second baseman from Zumwalt West High School in O'Fallon, Mo., is hitting .302 with three home runs and 12 RBIs. Mancuso, a third baseman from Rockhurst High in Kansas City, is batting .400 with seven doubles and 11 RBIs.

Junior first baseman Danny Brock, a transfer from Northeastern Community College in Colorado, is leading the squad with a .422 batting average and 19 hits. Junior catcher Ben Braaten, a transfer from Iowa Western Community College, is hitting .390 with 12 RBIs.

"I think this is a group of kids that is pretty loose and doesn't know any better," Hendrickson said. "I don't think they know what they are getting into when we get into the A-10 schedule."

But while the second-year coach knows the schedule will get more difficult going forward, he is also quick to admit his team has already shown some very positive things early in the season.

"These guys are pretty prepared," Hendrickson said. "They've been through a great California schedule where we got some wins. … They've beaten some good teams."

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