The two-time defending Atlantic 10 Conference champion Saint Louis University men's baseball team began its 2014 season with a bang, Friday evening at Sewell-Thomas Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., as the Billikens rallied for single runs in the fourth and fifth innings, then held off preseason No. 21 Alabama for the final five innings to earn a hard-fought 2-1 victory in the season opener for both clubs.
It was a pair of triples that proved to be the key hits for SLU, which fell behind 1-0, then had to sit through a 30-minute rain delay before it could finally get started on mounting a comeback.
Reigning Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year Mike Vigliarolo got things started for the Billikens with a two-out single in the top of the fourth. He then came around to score when right fielder Danny Murphy tripled into the right-field corner for SLU's first run of the season.
Then in the top of the fifth, center fielder Danny Brennan led off with a triple in to the right-center field gap.
The SLU senior and St. Peters, Mo. native, scored what proved to be the game-winning run on a groundball out off the bat of fellow St. Peters native Jake Henson.
Both clubs removed their starters after the rain delay. Alabama's Tucker Hawley (0-1) took the loss after giving up both Billiken runs, while SLU junior Nick Bates (1-0), who set program records for wins as a freshman (six) and tied the for most wins as a sophomore (eight) picked up his 15th career win in blue and white.
Bates went 4 2/3 innings and allowed no runs and just three hits against 18 Alabama batters faced.
The key defensive play of the game came in the bottom of the eighth, when Alabama put runners on first and second and nearly tied the score on a single to left by second baseman Kyle Overstreet.
But SLU left fielder Michael Bozarth fired a strike home to get Crimson Tide shortstop Mikey White at the plate, thanks to a beautiful block of the plate and tag by Henson.
Sophomore Matt Eckelman then took over for Bates, and got the final four outs to preserve the win.
Game 2 of the three-game set between the Billikens and Crimson Tide is set for a 2 p.m. start time, with juniorrighthander James Norwood getting the start for SLU and junior lefty Justin Kamplain taking the ball for Alabama.
SCORE BY INNING .. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 - R H E
Saint Louis ................. 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 - 2 8 0
Alabama ...................... 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 1 7 0
WP: Nick Bates (1-0) LP: Hawley (0-1) SV: Matt Eckelman (1).
SLU BILLIKENS UPCOMING BASEBALL SCHEDULE
February 15 at Alabama .............. 2 p.m.
February 16 at Alabama .............. 1 p.m.
February 21 vs. Akron* .............. 6 p.m.
February 22 vs. Duke* .............. 12 p.m.
February 23 vs. La Salle* .......... 10 a.m.
February 28 vs. Saint Peters# ...... 10 a.m.
March 1 vs. Wake Forest# ............ 3 p.m.
March 2 vs. Stony Brook# ........... 11 a.m.
March 4 vs. MURRAY STATE ............ 3 p.m.
March 5 vs. MURRAY STATE ............ 3 p.m.
* - denotes games at Duke Blue Devil Classic in Durham, N.C.
# - denotes games at Wake Forest Tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C.
ALL CAPS denotes home games at Billiken Sports Complex in St. Louis.