2014 Arch Awards: Best St. Louis Sports Storyline Nominees


Here at Arch Authority, we’re paying tribute to the 2014 season in St. Louis sports through the Arch Awards, which is our way to honor the finest moments, teams, and individual performers in our city this year. We’ll be revealing the nominees in six different categories over the next few days, continuing today with the Best St. Louis Sports Storyline Award. This award goes to the storyline in St. Louis sports that inspired the most excitement and positive emotion during the 2014 calendar year. Our nominees are Saint Louis University basketball coming back in overtime to beat NC State in their first 2014 NCAA tournament game, the Missouri Tigers football team winning the SEC East during what was viewed by many to be a “rebuilding season”, Cardinals reliever Pat Neshek becoming a National League All-Star after coming into spring training as a non-roster invitee, the Cardinals going to a fourth straight National League Championship Series, and the Rams upsetting the Denver Broncos at home last month.

Please vote for the most deserving nominee below and scroll down to read more about why we believed the nominees to be deserving.

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

SLU comes back in overtime to beat NC State in NCAA tournament: Having gone 27-6 with a starting lineup comprised entirely of seniors, the Saint Louis University basketball team certainly had a right to be confident heading into the 2014 NCAA tournament. However, with three straight losses near the end of the regular season and a deflating A10 tournament loss to lowly St. Bonaventure, there was plenty of reason to suspect that the Billikens would fail in their first tournament game.

It definitely looked that way early, as NC State went into halftime with a 30-26 lead and really turned it on during the middle of the second half, possessing a lead as strong as 16 points when T.J. Warren made a layup to put NC State up 55-39 with 8:13 left. But as time evaporated on the clock, SLU began to trudge back. Contributions from all of the Billikens’ seniors allowed them to fight back and finally tie it at 70 after Jordair Jett made a layup with 28 seconds left.

Unfortunately, Jett made his most common mistake with 18 seconds left when he missed a free throw that ended up forcing overtime, but the Billikens were able to battle it out in OT, largely thanks to the contributions of big man Rob Loe, who contributed 4 points from the field and 2 at the free throw line.

The Billikens went on to be eliminated from tournament play two days later when they lost to Louisville, but for one night, they were the talk of the sports world with their late-game heroics.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri Tigers win SEC East during “rebuilding season”: Plenty of prognosticators picked the 2014 Missouri Tigers football team to finish near the middle or the bottom of the pack in 2014, and it would have been difficult to blame them. But thanks to a masterful coaching job by Gary Pinkel and some surprise contributions from former depth players, the Tigers were able to knock off division foes such as South Carolina and Florida and win the SEC East for the second straight year.

On offense, they lost their starting quarterback and running back, but most significantly two NFL-caliber receivers who had been part of the offensive attack for the last several years. It certainly didn’t make things easier that left tackle Justin Britt, who went on to be a second-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, graduated as well. But the Tigers’ most deflating blow came shortly after spring practice, when former number-one recruit Dorial Green-Beckham, who had been the Tigers’ leading receiver in 2013, had to be dismissed from the program due to a domestic violence allegation which followed several other less serious legal issues.

Mizzou filled those three receiver vacancies with their trusty slot receiver, Bud Sasser, plus two players in Jimmie Hunt and Darius White who had never been entrusted with starting roles before. As a unit (and one who received very minimal contributions from their depth players), the three receivers went on to contribute 139 catches for 2,007 yards with 21 touchdowns, 10 of which came from the emergent Sasser. And despite the loss of starting running back Henry Josey, his former backups, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, were able to come together to create a formidable duo, and both had career years in the backfield.

Make no mistake, though, the Tigers’ most important contributions came from their defense. Mizzou had 42 sacks, which led the SEC and was good for sixth in the nation. The team’s duo of defensive ends, Shane Ray and Markus Golden, who had just replaced a departed duo of NFL ends in Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, were able to collect 14 and 8.5 sacks, respectively. Defensive tackle Harold Brantley also emerged as a formidable interior pass rusher, collecting five sacks. When you throw in the quiet contributions of linebackers Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer, who were the team’s two leading tacklers, you have a pretty impressive defensive unit.

Though the Tigers lost last week in the SEC Championship Game to Alabama, they’ll wrap up the season with their best bowl appearance in recent memory, the newly-renamed Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando on New Year’s Day, which is much better than where most people probably thought they’d be going into this year.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Neshek makes All-Star team after coming in as NRI: Mere days before the beginning of spring training, veteran reliever Pat Neshek was a free agent, having only received an offer to attend minor-league camp with the Milwaukee Brewers and a non-roster deal with an invitation to spring training with the Cardinals. He’d been spotty in recent seasons and had a less-than-impressive season with the Oakland Athletics in 2013, though in retrospect it probably should have been enough at least to get him some more spring training invites. Neshek chose to accept the Cards’ offer, and it’s all history from there.

The 33-year-old sidearmer was able to secure a spot in the Cardinals’ opening day bullpen. Thanks to an offseason commitment to cut down on his slider usage and improve his fastball velocity, Neshek put up career-best numbers. Over 71 games, he went 7-2 with a 1.87 ERA, a 0.787 WHIP, 68 strikeouts, and nine walks in 67.1 innings. Despite his status as a middle reliever, Neshek was outstanding enough to earn his first career All-Star selection and had the honor of pitching in his home state of Minnesota for the Midsummer Classic.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Cardinals advance to NLCS for fourth straight season: It seems that however the wind blows for the St. Louis Cardinals, they continue to be dominant and keep their dynasty alive. Despite a host of changes, which in 2014 included the trade of third baseman David Freese, the free agent departures of outfielder Carlos Beltran and reliever Edward Mujica, and the midseason trades of former clutch-hitting extraordinaire Allen Craig and starting pitcher Joe Kelly to the Boston Red Sox, the Cardinals found another way to get it done.

The Cards didn’t necessarily have a consistent source of offense throughout the season, but they always found someone to pull them through. When catcher Yadier Molina went down and Craig struggled mightily at the plate, first-year starters Matt Adams and Kolten Wong found their offensive juices and gave life to the offense. When those guys cooled off a bit, players like Randal Grichuk and Pete Kozma came out of the woodwork to get the team through September. When you factor in the season-long reliability of Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay, the Cardinals had a very smooth-operating offense in 2014.

The lifeblood of the Cardinals, however, was the pitching staff. Ace Adam Wainwright had a career year, and guys like Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and John Lackey were able to make significant contributions that gave opposing hitters a challenge on a daily basis. Closer Trevor Rosenthal was generally reliable, as was righthanded specialist Seth Maness, but the star of the ‘pen was offseason acquisition Pat Neshek, who was so dominant that he earned an All-Star berth in July.

The Cardinals continued their dominance in the postseason, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS to earn their fourth straight appearance in the NLCS. And while they went on to lose to the San Francisco Giants in that series, the Cards established themselves as baseball’s most consistent franchise on a year-in, year-out basis.

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Rams shock Denver Broncos: It’s safe to say that nobody was expecting the St. Louis Rams to be competitive, much less win, when they faced the Denver Broncos in Week 11 of the 2014 NFL season. The Rams entered the contest 3-6 with a new starting quarterback, veteran Shaun Hill, who wasn’t exactly the ideal candidate to deal with Denver’s previously dominant pass rush.

Hill and the Rams surprised, though, as the offense gave up no turnovers and the defense, which had given up at least 30 points in six of the Rams’ first nine games, was able to limit the Broncos’ offense, ranked second in the NFL at the time, to just seven points while shutting them out after halftime. The Rams’ offense was by no means dominant—they only scored one touchdown, while Greg Zuerlein had to kick five field goals, including 55 and 53-yarders—but it was a great overall team effort, one of the best that has been seen in St. Louis over the past decade or so.

A win that took the Rams to a measly 4-6 record may not have seemed to be that significant, but it may have been the event that put life back into the Rams franchise again. The playoffs are extremely unlikely in 2014, but with the Rams now at 6-7 and playing as well as any team in the NFL at the moment, it’s clear that there’s a bright future for the Rams.