BRONX, N.Y. - Days after being named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, freshman Zak Sterling tossed a complete-game shutout to lead the No. 5-seeded Richmond Spiders over the top-seeded Saint Louis Billikens, 6-0. Winners of five straight, Richmond improved its record to 29-24 overall with the victory, while Saint Louis fell to 40-17 on the year with the loss.
"With the magnitude of this game, Zak's performance today was one of the best of the season," Spider head coach Mark McQueen remarked after the win. "Zak was terrific and the first-inning home run from Chris Cowell was huge for our momentum. Today's victory was huge for us, allowing us to stay in the winner's bracket."
After taking down the No. 1-seeded Billikens, the Spiders will play the winner of tonight's No. 2 Dayton and No. 6 Saint Joseph's game in the Atlantic 10 Championship semifinals. The game is scheduled for a tentative 1:30 p.m. start time at Houlihan Park on Friday in the Bronx.
Pushing his record to 7-1 on the season, Sterling was tremendous for the Spiders on Thursday afternoon. Sterling surrendered just four hits on the afternoon while striking out four. The complete game was the first in the Salisbury, Md., native's young career.
Senior catcher Chris Cowell delivered the biggest blow offensively for Richmond, crushing a three-run home run in the first inning. Sophomore Mike Small drove in two runs on the day, while classmate Adam Forrer also had a RBI. Cowell, redshirt junior Adam McConnell, and junior Jacob Mayers all had two hits for the Spiders.
For the second straight day, the Spiders jumped out to an early lead thanks to a long home run. With one out, McConnell hit a double down the left field line and was later joined on base by Mayers after the junior drew a walk. Swinging at the first pitch, Cowell hit a towering home run over the left field fence. Cowell's 20th homer of the season gave Richmond an early 3-0 advantage.
With a 3-0 lead, Sterling was able to settle in on the mound for Richmond. Despite struggling with his command at times, Sterling and the Spider defense were able to work out of any jam without the Billikens pushing across a run.
Still holding on to a 3-0 lead, the Spiders added to their lead in the top of the ninth. After loading the bases with a single and a pair of walks, Forrer drew a bases-loaded walk to plate the team's fourth run. Two batters later, Small blooped a single to center field, scoring two runs to give Richmond a 6-0 lead.
In the bottom of the ninth, Sterling came out looking to finish what he started. After a fly out and a foul out, Sterling was only one out from his first career complete game. With the count at 0-1, the freshman induced a groundout, securing the 6-0 win for the Spiders.
The Richmond Spiders will now face either No. 2-seeded Dayton or No. 6-seeded Saint Joseph's in the A-10 semifinals on Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.