The powerful SLU offense came to life on Championship Saturday as they took the first game 5-4 before winning a 7-4 decision in game two to win their second Atlantic 10 title and advance to their third NCAA appearance in program history. It brought a heartbreaking end to a great past few days for the host Niners, who entered the day as the only undefeated team in the tournament and needing just one win to move to the field of 64.
Game 1: SLU 5, Charlotte 4
In game one, it was the Billikens taking the early 5-0 lead with one in the 2nd, one in the 5th and three in the 6th. But the Niners rallied in the top of the 7th. With runners on the corners with one out, Grant Dunnegan stroked a three-run shot to make it 5-3. After a Mike Green two-out single, Shane Basen doubled to bring the speedy senior in. However, Basen tried to stretch it out to a triple and was called out on a very close play. That led to the ejection of Niner coach Loren Hibbs as he immediately came over to protest the call in the midst of an emotional few minutes.
That would be the turning point as the Niners were held off the board the rest of the way; they couldn’t push the tying run across and the Billikens won to force a deciding game. Mike Vigliarolo finished 4-5 with an RBI; Danny Brennan was 2-4 with 2 RBI. For Charlotte, Brett Lang was 3-4 and Basen was 2-4 with an RBI.
Game 2: SLU 7, Charlotte 4
Game two saw the Billkens take the lead early again, and they did it with the longball–Alex Kelly hit a 2-run shot in the top of the third following a Grant Nelson RBI single to make it 3-0; Mike Bozarth and Steve Fernandez hit solo shots in the 5th and 6th (respectfully) to push the lead to 5-0.
But despite looking early on as if they were trying to force the issue rather and relaxing and not getting caught up in the atmosphere, the Niners finally broke through. In the bottom of the 6th, they took advantage of two errors by SLU to get on the board 5-1. Later, Derek Gallello’s RBI single brought in Shane Basen to make it 5-2, followed by a Brett Lang single that scored Gallello; Montalbano also came around and jarred the ball loose from the glove of Nelson on a slide to make it 5-4.
However, as in the first game, the tying run would never come home. The SLU relievers, led by the workhorse, Marco Mejia, kept the Niners off the scoreboard. They would tack on two more in the top of the 8th to shut the door and advance to the NCAA tournament.
So the Atlantic 10 era (which began in 2005) has come to a disappointing end–apart from the track and field athletes competing at the regionals. While it’s had its ups and downs, it’s time for a new chapter in Niner athletics–the return to Conference USA and the launch of football. And while C-USA is much different that when they left it, we’re looking forward to what’s ahead for them as they return to the conference they called home from 1995-2005.