Mavericks capitalize on errors and two-out runs to beat UMC, 15-9
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Minnesota State isn't a team you can afford to give second chances to and expect to live to tell the tale. The Minnesota Crookston baseball team found this out the hard way.
The 13th-ranked Mavericks, the top-seeded team in the NSIC Tournament, scored 12 runs with two outs en route to a 15-9 win over the Golden Eagles on Wednesday afternoon at Ronken Field at Karras Park, sending UMC to the brink of elimination.
Were it not for the Golden Eagles (25-10) scoring four runs in the ninth inning on home runs by Will Zimmerman and Jake Hjelle, the final margin would have been significantly wider. But at the same time, it could easily have been significantly narrower.
"We didn't make the plays when we had to," said UMC coach Steve Gust. "... It wasn't one particular play. We just weren't as sharp as we needed to be."
It's tempting to point to a particular play or two. With a runner on in the second inning, the Mavericks' Jack Friedges hit a double-play ball to second baseman Mason Ruhlman, but Ruhlman and shortstop Ben Bryant couldn't connect on the play at second. Two batters later, Teddy Peterson slammed a shot off the scoreboard in right field, pushing Minnesota State's lead to 4-0 instead of the inning being over.
The Mavericks (35-7) scored six runs off of Jake Dykhoff in the frame to take a 7-0 lead and chase UMC's starter from the game. None of those runs went down as earned runs.
But the Golden Eagles, averaging over eight runs per game coming in, weren't going to stay silent forever. They battled back with a two-out rally of their own in the fourth inning: Zimmerman dove headfirst into first base to beat out an infield grounder, Scott Finberg took a pitch off the leg and Hjelle roped a shot into centerfield to score both of them.
Zimmerman, Finberg and Hjelle came through again to lead off the sixth inning, going double-double-single to bring home two runs. Minnesota State went to the bullpen with two outs and runners on the corners, and Bryant greeted Jon Ludwig with a sharp grounder through the right side to cut the deficit to 7-5.
In addition, UMC was kept afloat by freshman left-hander Alex Koep, who hurled four scoreless innings of relief against the potent Maverick lineup while striking out five.
"That's how good we are," Gust said. "To come back on a team like that says a lot about the character of your team. We just fought and scratched, and that's what we do. We know we have the offense to keep us in the game all the way through."
But after all of their work to climb up the mountain, the Golden Eagles lost their grip in the seventh inning. With two outs, Ruhlman mishandled a seemingly routine grounder by Ross Indlecoffer. Tyler Hegg then walked Adam Schiender to load the bases before hanging a breaking ball to Ty Denzer, who golfed it over the right-field fence to send UMC back to square one.
Hjelle and Zimmerman led UMC's offense, each going 3-for-5 with three RBIs. Eli Jung had two hits, and Ruhlman reached base four times on two walks and two hit-by-pitches.
Nick Altermatt got shakier as the game progressed, but held on long enough to pick up the win for Minnesota State with eight strikeouts in 5.2 innings. At the plate, NSIC Player of the Year Joey Werner went 3-for-6 with three RBIs while Denzer, Indlecoffer and Petersen all had multi-hit games.
Gust said afterwards that he wasn't disappointed in any aspect of his team's play. Wednesday's game simply showed the difference between the NSIC's fifth-ranked team and first-ranked team: given the smallest of windows, the Mavericks jumped right through while shattering the entire windowpane for good measure.
"We were right where we wanted to be late in the game," Gust said. "Some costly errors and we missed some spots pitching-wise, and we had opportunities to score at the plate and we didn't come through. It's tough to beat a quality team like Mankato when all of those things have gone against you."
UP NEXT: The Golden Eagles will play the loser of Wednesday night's game between No. 19 Augustana (33-9), the second seed, and St. Cloud State (22-12), the third seed. That game will take place Thursday at 12 p.m.
UMC is 1-1 against the Vikings this season, having split a doubleheader against them on March 30 in Sioux Falls. It beat St. Cloud State twice during the non-conference slate, but the Huskies swept the Golden Eagles in St. Cloud in April.
Minnesota State will await either Augustana or St. Cloud State in the winners' bracket. That game will take place after the UMC game.
If the Golden Eagles win, they would play the loser of Minnesota State vs. Augustana/St. Cloud State later Thursday in an elimination game. If they lose, their season would most likely come to an end — they were not listed as one of the 10 teams under consideration for an NCAA Tournament berth in the latest Central Region rankings.
If UMC wins both games Thursday and advances to Friday's championship, it will need to beat its opponent twice in order to win the NSIC title. But Gust doesn't want his team to dwell that far ahead.
"We can't think that we gotta win four games in a row," he said. "We just gotta win the next pitch."
MINNESOTA STATE 15, MINNESOTA CROOKSTON 9
Minnesota Crookston 0-0-0-2-0-3-0-0-4—9-11-2
Minnesota State 1-6-0-0-0-0-5-3-X—15-13-2
- WP: Nick Altermatt (5.2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 8 K)
- LP: Jake Dykhoff (2.0 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K)
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