NCAA Baseball

Three SLU seniors take advantage of NCAA option, will return for 2021 baseball season


Three SLU seniors take advantage of NCAA option, will return for 2021 baseball season

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Jake Garella, SLU baseball

Jake Garella (Edwardsville),  a career .330 hitter for SLU, plans to be back  next year for another go as a senior. (St. Louis University photo). 

The St. Louis University baseball team was overrun with new talent in a 2020 season that was going well before coming to a sudden stop because of the coronavirus crisis.

Coach Darin Hendrickson had 19 newcomers, who helped the Billikens to a 10-6 record in nonconference competition.

He had five seniors and all were significant contributors. When the NCAA voted to give spring-sport seniors the option of retaining their final year of eligibility in 2021, three SLU players decided to return.

Outfielder Jake Garella, a career .330 hitter for the Billikens, will return along with pitchers Charlie Sheehan and Jake Finkelnburg.

Departing will be outfielder Corrigan Bartlett and pitcher Ryan Nolan.

At the same time, SLU will honor scholarships for 10 incoming players starting next season.

“I don’t know how it could have worked out better,” Hendrickson said. “Guys had degrees left (to finish) and it allowed us to keep those guys and welcome them back. It lets SLU be a breath of fresh air for them during a tough time and say ‘You don’t have to worry.’”

Universities around the country have handled the situation in different ways.

Wisconsin told seniors in spring sports they cannot return. The Ivy League won’t let them graduate this spring and hey will return next academic year.

SLU athletics director Chris May is a member of the NCAA Council, which decided on the issue.

“We felt if (spring) student-athletes wanted to come back for their senior year, they should have the ability to,” May said. “As we go through exit interviews, we see what people’s goals are and if they have an aspiration to come back. We don’t have a lot, but a few want to pursue that.”

The softball team had two seniors, and they will not return.

For Hendrickson, keeping Garella in the lineup would be significant. Given another season, he should shatter SLU’s career doubles record. He also is in the top 15 for hits, total bases and batting average. Garella is studying aviation and working toward becoming a pilot.

Sheehan has been a versatile pitcher out of the bullpen and has a career record of 8-3 with a 3.38 ERA. Finkelnburg is a 6-foot-8 lefthander, who transferred from Loyola Marymount and immediately earned a starting job.

The biggest loss among the seniors is Bartlett, who stated the season with a 12-game hitting streak and was batting .322. He will transfer to Wichita State to pursue a graduate program not offered at SLU. Also leaving is Nolan, who had 20 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings in his first year at SLU.

“That’s two pitchers and our best hitter – and two really good pitchers,” Hendrickson said. “So, we’re more than pleased to have them back from a talent and character standpoint.”

The Billikens appeared to be bouncing back from a rough season in 2019. They were nearing their Atlantic 10 Conference opener when the COVID-19 pandemic ended the season.

Three of their losses came against national powers — Vanderbilt and Oklahoma State. They never got a chance to seek revenge on the Atlantic 10 coaches, who had picked SLU to finish sixth.

“Everybody had a feeling on the team that they knew which way they were headed. We had a good group,” Hendrickson said. “We were trying to win games and be competitive, but we had a good group who liked each other and played hard. We were heading in a good direction.”

Whenever he is able to regroup with his players, Hendrickson knows he’ll have a base of experience from which to draw with the return of his three seniors.

The Billikens normally now would be in the middle of their season with a home three-game series against Texas Southern this weekend. Hendrickson would then be headed into his 25th season as a batting practice pitcher for the Cardinals.

He’ll never know what the Billikens might have done in the A-10, but rationalized that maybe it was better the season ended when it did as opposed to being interrupted later.

“I would have been more disappointed if we were deeper in and had a good run going,” he said.

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