Northern State eliminated Minnesota Crookston from the NSIC Tournament with a 10-0 win.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. - Through three innings, no one really noticed it. Nine Golden Eagles came to the plate and nine Golden Eagles walked back to the dugout. After the fourth, fans started to realize Northern State starting pitcher Luke Chevalier (Sr. RHP) had not allowed a baserunner.
The senior righty with the almost sidearm delivery retired the first 20 batters he faced, allowed a two-out single in the seventh to end his attempt at perfection but the Northern State Wolves went on to win 10-0 and advanced in the NSIC Tournament.
"The results here were disappointing, but what we accomplished here is pretty remarkable considering the seniors we lost from last year's team, [Zach] Seipel to the draft and our best pitcher to Tommy John [Surgery]," Golden Eagles Head Coach Steve Gust said. "It was senior-led, but what we did was incredible considering we weren't ultra-talented. We were a team that found ways to compete and found ways to give ourselves a chance."
The Golden Eagles (28-21, 20-13 NSIC), ranked sixth in the tournament, ended their season after a 14-0 loss to No. 3 St. Cloud State in the opening round, and their loss to the No. 7 Wolves (26-24, 21-16 NSIC) in the elimination bracket.
Mixed with pure domination, every one of these bids involves a certain amount luck. In the early innings, Ben Thoma (So. C) nearly earned a walk, but the would-be ball four thrown behind the sophomore hit the bat resting on his shoulders. Thoma went on to ground out to third on the next pitch.
Adding to Minnesota Crookston’s woes, Justin Barreneche (Sr. CF) preserved the perfect game with a running catch at the fence in dead center in the fifth to rob Brock Reller (So. RF) of a hit when the Wolves led only 2-0.
"It didn't seem like anything went right for us," Gust said. "But at the same token, the opponents we played made things happen and created opportunities. Over the course of time, the game will reward those that should. We didn't get rewarded this weekend, but we're hoping to in the future."
Chevalier sat one out away from seven perfect innings when Reed Hjelle (Sr. 1B), who came in with the highest Golden Eagle batting average at .356, smacked a 3-1 pitch up the middle for a two-out single.
Chevalier notched the remaining seven outs and earned the complete game shutout with two hits, one walk and nine strikeouts.
"He's that good," Gust said. "People don't realize how good pitchers are in this league. He could get paid for a living to play baseball someday. He mixes it up, good velocity and pounds the strike zone."
On the mound for the Golden Eagles, Nate Albrecht (Sr. LHP) went 5.1 innings and allowed three runs, two earned.
From Northern State’s perspective, their early offensive strategy was a fine display of small ball and manufacturing runs. From the side of Minnesota Crookston, Albrecht and company did well to limit damage. Either way, the Wolves put runners in scoring position with less than two outs in six of the first seven innings and scored in four of them.
Their first run came on an RBI groundout by Hayden Houts (Jr. 1B) which scored Justin Barreneche (Sr. CF), who doubled and advanced to third on a passed ball.
NSU scratched across their second and third runs in identical fashion in the fourth and the sixth. Sacrifice bunts put runners on second and third with one out, and Alec Lee (Jr. RF) and Hayden Hall (Sr. 3B) scored the respective lead runners with fly balls to center for a 3-0 lead.
For the third time in the game, this time in the seventh frame, the Wolves set themselves up with runners on second and third and one out. Rather than plating one, Northern State grew their lead to 6-0 starting with a two-run double by Sarringar and capped off with a sac-fly from Hall, the Wolves’ third of the game.
"They made the most of their opportunities and they moved runners and got sac-flies," Gust said. "They found ways to score. Give them credit. We were a little inconsistent and that's what led to a couple, late crooked numbers."
Desperate for baserunners, the first two Minnesota Crookston batters in the seventh made outs which brought up Hjelle. Hjelle, in his last game as a Golden Eagle, backed away from the first pitch up and in and later worked the count to 3-0. Chevalier threw a get-me-over pitch for strike one, and Hjelle was ready for the second strike attempt. The senior lined the Golden Eagles’ first hit up the middle with no chance of an out being recorded, and the Golden Eagles had their first baserunner after 20 straight outs.
The Wolves tacked on four more in the eighth, all with two outs, and closed out the win 10-0.
Despite the exit from the conference tournament, the Golden Eagles put together a record season setting new highs for conference and overall wins.
"How you create a winning culture is the seniors that come through must create that foundation," Gust said. "We weren't the most talented, but we were a team that did the little things and competed as a team. We're going to continue to move this program forward. One day, we're going to try and win some games and maybe win the whole thing. The seniors, and everybody that came before them in my five years, will allow us to do that one day. It may not be the day where you or I want to, but we'll get there one day, I promise you."Northern State 0 0 1 1 0 1 3 4 0 10 13 0 Minnesota Crookston 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2
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