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Breaking Down the Louisville Regional: The NCAA Baseball Tournament - #4 Saint Louis

This picture was originally just a giant closeup of the Billiken's face. Then I decided that none of us wanted nightmares.
This picture was originally just a giant closeup of the Billiken's face. Then I decided that none of us wanted nightmares.

The Saint Louis Billikens make up the final piece of the Louisville Regional, taking on the host team in a game where they'll be considerable underdogs. SLU is riding a current hot streak in what has been a season of runs, as the team has strung together wins and losses in succession over the course of the season. Which team will show up is the biggest question facing the #4 seed - will it be the team that held A-10 favorite Charlotte to just six runs in a pair of tournament games, or will it be the team that lost three-game series to Central Arkansas, UMass, and Saint Joseph's?

Saint Louis - #4 Seed - Unranked by USA today - 33-27 - Atlantic Ten Champions

The Billikens would have been enjoying their summer vacation had they not secured the Atlantic Ten's automatic bid. The A10 boasts a few quality teams - Charlotte and Rhode Island amongst them - but is considered a low-major league with respect to the college baseball landscape. Until the conference tournament, Saint Louis was a middle-of-the-road team there, finishing just fifth in the league before their 4-0 playoff run pushed them into the NCAA Tournament.

Offensively, the Billikens are driven by two players - third baseman Jon Myers and first baseman Danny Brock. The two are amongst the top three on the team in home runs, RBI, runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage, total completions, three-point shooting, goals-against-average, and just about any other offensive statistic you can think of. On the mound, the team is at best average through both their starters and their bullpen corps.

Batter(s) to watch: Myers and Brock. The Billikens have 57 home runs - 32 are from the Myers/Brock combination (56%). The team has 389 RBI - 143 from the pair (37%). In the Atlantic Ten Tournament, they combined for ten RBI and ten runs scored in just four games. Their importance to this team cannot be overstated, as their only real deficiencies are Myers speed and difficulties in the field at third base.

However, Saint Louis doesn't offer much beyond Myers and Brock. Centerfielder J.D. Dunn is a speedster who can get on base and score runs, and catcher Ben Braaten can provide some pop, but the rest of the lineup leaves much to be desired. If the Billikens' big two can't put together any offense against the solid pitching staffs of Louisville and Vanderbilt, then SLU will be in trouble.

Pitcher to watch: Bryant Cotton. Cotton is SLU's best starter, and they'll need him to run deep into games in order to deflect pressure from their haggard bullpen. Cotton has some control issues and gives up too many hits, but he can also ring up strikeouts in bunches and has stepped up in high pressure situations - as his complete game, four hit performance against Charlotte in the A10 Tourney shows. He also came in to close out the 49ers in the clinching game of the tournament just two days later.

Cotton will have his hands full against a Louisville team that can absolutely mash at the plate, and the pressure will squarely be on his shoulders to keep the Billikens in the game long enough for their offense to squirt out some runs.

Overall Summary: Saint Louis will have to rely on some unheralded players if they're going to upset Louisville. Though the pressure will be on the trio of Myers, Brock, and Cotton to produce, someone is going to have to come out of the woodwork to play a big play or two to lead this team to a win. Three players alone can't win a NCAA Regional game, and unfortunately that's what the Billikens will be mostly relying on.

The team that gets to play Saint Louis in Game Two, whether in the winner or loser's bracket, will have a much easier road by avoiding Cotton and instead facing Alex Alemann, who was just average in the regular season and had a rough start in the league tournament. SLU isn't a great team, but they're built to produce some surprise upsets in any tournament format. However, whether they can produce any magic against a national seed and one of the strongest #2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament remains to be seen.