It was a bit more than a year ago, in mid March, when the pandemic brought an abrupt and disappointing end to the Marymount University Saints’ college baseball season.
Looking back, that premature stoppage actually spurred significant motivation for the Division III team’s current 2021 campaign.
The Saints were enjoying a blistering 13-6-1 start to the 2020 schedule, their best in the Arlington program’s short seven-year history at the time. Then, there was nothing more. No potential conference championship or NCAA-tournament berth the team thought were possibilities.
A year later, though, Marymount achieved those two high-water marks. After a shaky 1-2 start, the Saints quickly got hot, stayed hot, won the Atlantic East Conference regular-season and tournament championships, then took a 20-5 record and five-game winning streak into an eight-team NCAA regional tournament in High Point, N.C., as a sixth seed.
“I think last year rolled over into this season and we have blended it all together,” Marymount head coach Frank Leoni said. “When this season started, we were ready to go and we felt good about our prospects. We lost only two players from last season.”
Picked as the league’s preseason No. 1 team, the Saints backed that up with a strong regular season, earning the top seed in the conference tournament. Marymount then won that title for the first time by rallying from a 5-2 deficit to defeat No. 2-seed Immaculate, 10-5, in the championship game. The host-team Saints were 3-0 in the competition, played at the National Youth Academy field in D.C.
“When the season began and we jumped right into conference play, we had to figure a lot of stuff out on the fly, because we didn’t have much of a routine preseason,” Leoni said. “We had only one fall practice on a real baseball field. But our guys stuck with it.”
Leoni describes the Saints as a balanced team that does a little of everything well. There is power hitting (27 home runs); stingy defense and deep and good pitching with a strong bullpen; and the ability to bunt, run, move runners and play small-ball when necessary. The Saints entered the region tourney with 68 stolen bases.
More than all of that, Leoni believes what sets this team apart is its ability to stay focused and on board with the team motto of “It’s not who you play, but how we play.”
The coach gives such an example by rallying to win in the conference-tourney final.
“They believe,” Leoni said.
Also in the conference tournament, Marymount defeated fourth-seeded Wesley, 18-4, in the opener behind 14 hits, then rallying from an early 2-0 deficit to down third-seed Cabrini, 6-2, in the second round with nine hits.
Individually, Marymount has been led by conference Player of the Year and infielder Alex Lemery (.438 batting average with seven homers and 20 steals), Pitcher of the Year Ryan Bergenhagen (5-2 record) and first-team all-league player and relief pitcher Jake Andrews (three saves, 0.49 earned run average).
Second-team all-conference players for Marymount are pitchers Drew Mead (5-1) and Clint Wheeler (three saves, 0.59), catcher James DiGiulian (.393, six doubles), infielder Bill Wojcik (.355, five homers) and utility player Jordan Dickson (.378, six doubles).
Lemery had two hits and three RBI in the title game, as the Saints had seven hits. Bobby Leitzel also had two hits, with DiGiulian and Bryce Smith (two RBI) having one each, and Wojcik and Robby Cable an RBI each. Kyle Lewis was the winning pitcher in relief, working four innings of shutout ball with three strikeouts.
Against Cabrini, Mead was the winning pitcher with eight strikeouts in six innings, Leitzel homered and had three hits, Wojcik doubled twice and Ryan Maylie had two hits and two RBI.
Bergenhagen got the win against Wesley. Wojcik homered and had five RBI, Leitzel and Maylie each added three hits and three RBI, and Smith (two RBI) and Casey Baker had two hits each.
NOTES: Marymount has compiled three 20-win seasons in the program’s eight-season history. The Saints won 20 each spring in 2017 and 2019 . . . Marymount began the region tournament with 134 victories in team history . . . Leoni began the region tournament with 596 career victories. He coached two Division I programs before starting the Marymount team in 2014.