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SLU holds off Dayton to remain one game back in A-10 baseball race

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The Saint Louis University men’s baseball team kept pace with first place Saint Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season championship race by defeating visiting Dayton, 7-4, Friday night at the Billiken Sports Complex in midtown St. Louis.

Saint Louis (26-17 overall, 13-6 in league play) lost its hold on first place last weekend, when it lost two of three games at George Mason, remains just a game behind St. Joe with two weeks left in the regular season.

The Hawks (28-10, 14-5), who have won nine in a row and 13 of their last 14, defeated Richmond, 10-5, Friday night in Philadelphia.

That win for Saint Joe meant SLU had to win Friday to keep pace, which the Billikens did, thanks to an 11-hit barrage by its offense and a solid six-inning effort on the mound from starter James Norwood.

Junior right fielder Danny Murphy delivered the big blow of the night, when he blasted a two-run homer deep over the right-field wall to give SLU a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first.

Teammate Michael Bozarth drove in SLU’s first run with one-out double down the left-field line off Dayton starter and losing pitcher Nick Gobert.

Dayton got back into the game in the top of the third, when designated hitter Aaron Huesman drove in two runs with a bases-loaded single off Norwood to make it 3-2.

But the Billikens broke the game open with a pair of runs in both the fourth and fifth innings off Gobert, who gave up all seven SLU runs on eight hits and three walks, with five strikeouts.

Freshman shortstop Michael Cusenza, who was one of four Billikens with two hits in the game, drove in two of those runs with a single in the fourth.

Then in the fifth inning, Murphy added his third RBI of the night on a double, before scoring SLU’s final run of the evening on a single by sophomore third baseman Braxton Martinez.

Dayton tried to rally, getting single runs in the sixth and eighth innings before loading the bases with one out in the ninth. But SLU sophomore Matt Eckelman was able to close the door by getting the final outs without allowing a single run to preserve the Billiken win.

Norwood (6-1) earned his team-leading sixth win, while Eckelman picked up his eighth save of the season.

Game 2 of this weekend’s three-game set will begin at 2 p.m. on Saturday, with junior righty Nick Bates (5-1) getting the start for the Billikens.