Golden Eagles hold off Minot State, 7-6, advance to next round of NSIC Tournament
Tyler Hegg pumped his first and hurled his glove in the direction of the Minnesota Crookston dugout, from which his teammates were storming out of. The biggest moment in Golden Eagle baseball history was worthy of that celebration and more.
UMC defeated No. 4 seed Minot State, 7-5, on Friday afternoon in Minot, N.D. to win its NSIC Tournament first-round series and advance to the finals of the tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D. next week.
The fifth-seeded Golden Eagles scored five ninth-inning runs to come from behind and take the first game of the best-of-three series, 10-6, a day earlier. This meant they had two chances to clinch the series Friday. If they were to lose the first game, a second and final game would ensue right afterwards with the winner moving on.
UMC (25-10) didn't leave anything to chance. It picked up right where it left off from Thursday's game, scoring in each of the first five innings and taking a 7-1 lead.
Minot State starter Blake Gallagher struggled with control at first, hitting two Golden Eagles and walking another in the first inning. Jake Hjelle cashed in on the opportunity, hitting a two-RBI single on an 0-2 count to score two runs.
Mason Ruhlman drove in a run on a sacrifice fly in the second inning before Hjelle recorded his third RBI on a third-inning single. Brock Reller, the NSIC's leading home run hitter, drilled a two-run shot, his 15th of the year, to make it 6-0 in the fourth inning.
In the fifth inning, UMC scored the eventual game-winning run when Landyn Swenson singled and Eli Jung came home after a Beaver error on the play.
Minot State (24-17) scored one run in the fourth and two runs in the fifth against Conner Richardson, but otherwise, the Golden Eagle righty was dominant. Richardson made his longest start of the season, going seven innings while allowing just five hits. All three of his runs were unearned and 71 of his 104 pitches went for strikes.
The Beavers, though, got a rally going against the UMC bullpen. Nolan Monthei hit a two-run homer off of Brody Sorenson in the eighth inning to trim the lead in half. Jordan Williams doubled to lead off the ninth and scored on an RBI groundout by pinch-hitter Declan Buckle.
Hegg then entered the game with a runner on second and one out. He walked Matt Malone, struck out Drew Behling swinging, and then walked Monthei to load the bases for Kaiden Cardoso.
Hegg's 2-2 pitch to Cardoso found the edge of the zone, and the home plate umpire pumped his fist. While Cardoso stared in disbelief, the Golden Eagles came surging onto the field, forming an exuberant mob around Hegg.
Ben Bryant led UMC in the hit column by going 3-for-5 from the leadoff spot. Hjelle and Reller each had two hits as well. In all, the Golden Eagles had 11 hits, a day after collecting 13.
Reller's home run in the fourth inning was the 29th of his Golden Eagle career, surpassing Reed Hjelle's all-time program record.
UP NEXT: While Minot State's season is over, UMC advances to the final round of the NSIC Tournament. The final round consists of a four-team double-elimination tournament at Karras Park in Sioux Falls, S.D. from May 19-21.
The Golden Eagles will take on No. 1 seed Minnesota State (34-7) at 12 p.m. on Wednesday. No. 2 seed Augustana (33-9) and No. 3 seed St. Cloud State (22-12) make up the other half of the bracket.
UMC and Minnesota State did not play during the regular season. The two teams were scheduled to meet in a doubleheader in April, but it was cancelled due to COVID-19 protocols.
The winner of the tournament will earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament, which will begin with regionals Thursday, May 27 on campus sites.
MINNESOTA CROOKSTON 7, MINOT STATE 6
Minnesota Crookston 2-1-1-2-1-0-0-0-0—7-11-3
Minot State 0-0-0-1-2-0-0-2-1—6-8-3
- WP: Conner Richardson (7.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K)
- LP: Blake Gallagher (3.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K)
- SV: Tyler Hegg (0.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K)
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