Golden Eagles bounced from NSIC Tournament with 11-3 loss to Augustana
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — On Wednesday, the Minnesota Crookston baseball team fell to Minnesota State, 15-9, sending them to the loser's bracket of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament. If it was to climb out of it, it couldn't afford the same mistakes which cost it against the Mavericks.
But the Golden Eagles committed five errors in Thursday night's elimination game against No. 19 Augustana. This, in addition to a slow start, was too much for them to overcome. They fell to the two-time defending NSIC champion Vikings, 11-3, ending their tournament run and maybe their season.
"The guys are pretty devastated right now," said UMC coach Steve Gust. "But we left it all on the field, I really believe that. We didn't have much more in us today."
After UMC held St. Cloud State in check en route to a 6-1 victory earlier Thursday, the second-seeded Vikings (35-10) made it clear early on that this wasn't going to be the same kind of game. They laced three straight hits to begin the game against Matt Nelson and had six hits overall in a four-run first inning.
With Jake Osowski on the mound, the Golden Eagles (26-12) settled down over the next two innings. In the fourth inning, Scott Finberg smoked a double to deep left field to bring home UMC's first run, and Parker Stroh singled through the right side with the bases loaded to put two more runs on the board.
Minnesota Crookston wouldn't get any closer. After Osowski ran into trouble in the fourth inning, Jake Dykhoff entered in relief. Dykhoff retired the first batter he faced but allowed Riley Johnson to ground one deep to shortstop, and Ben Bryant couldn't connect on the long throw, skipping it past Jake Hjelle at first base. Two more runs came home, and Jaxon Rosencranz then hit an RBI single to push the lead back to 7-3.
Augustana's Koby Bishop got out of a two-on, two-out jam to end the fifth inning and end the Golden Eagles' last best chance to get back into the game. The Vikings then added to their lead with one run in the sixth and three runs in the seventh against UMC's bullpen.
"We just ran out of pitching," Gust said. "Guys battled, but I think we got a little tired there defensively. We made a few errors we don't normally make."
Tanner Brown took over for Bishop and finished the game for the Vikings, striking out eight and allowing just three hits over four innings.
"They threw two of their best pitchers at us," Gust said. "You can't get down that big. You can battle back, which we did, but the obstacles were too big."
The bottom of the seventh inning featured a lengthy delay after all of the lights at Karras Park shut off at once. As the lights needed to cool down before they could be turned on again, the game wouldn't resume for another 20 minutes.
This and a number of other delays, including the outfield sprinklers turning on with two outs in the ninth inning, meant that the game lasted over four hours, ending a few minutes after midnight.
Brock Reller went 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored for the Golden Eagles. Hjelle went 1-for-3 with a run.
When it was all said and done, Gust reflected on the Golden Eagles' season as a whole, one that featured more than its share of twists and turns from a 16-2 start, to multiple weeklong pauses due to COVID-19, and finally to the first three NSIC Tournament wins in program history.
"I couldn't ask for anything more from the guys," Gust said. "You can't. This has been a difficult year for the coaches and the players, but we've all overcome that, and it probably turned out to be one of the most gratifying years I've ever had as a coach."
UP NEXT: Minnesota Crookston will await the NCAA Tournament selection show on Sunday night to determine its fate. The Golden Eagles were ranked eighth in the latest Central Region poll, which was released Wednesday.
UMC's win over St. Cloud State, which was ranked sixth in the same poll, kept it in the discussion, but Gust thinks his team is on the outside looking in.
"It's probably not likely," he said. "But we have a shot at it, I know that."
The NSIC, Great American Conference and Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association conference tournament champions, along with three at-large teams, will qualify for the tournament out of the Central Region.
"I think we're a top six team, I really do," Gust said. "... These next two days, I guess it's out of our control, so we can't worry about it. I hope by some grace of God that we get selected. I think our numbers compare with the rest of the teams that are competing for those final spots."
If the Golden Eagles don't earn a tournament berth, Thursday's game will go down as the last in the college careers of seniors Finberg, Reller, Bobby Chu, Eli Jung, Garrett Hohn, Gregory Diaz, Jared Andersen, Jayden Grover, Landyn Swenson, Mason Ruhlman, T.J. Hokanson and Will Zimmerman.
Augustana advances to take on Minnesota State in Friday's championship. The Vikings have to beat the Mavericks twice, while the Mavericks only need to win once to win the NSIC title.
AUGUSTANA 11, MINNESOTA CROOKSTON 3
Minnesota Crookston 0-0-0-3-0-0-0-0-0—3-7-5
- WP: Koby Bishop (5.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K)
- LP: Matt Nelson (1.1 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K)
- SV: Tanner Brown (4.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K)
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