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ISSUE 117 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 4/9/2004

Strong pitching propels Ole sweep

By Ryan Maus
Staff Writer

Friday, April 9, 2004

Dorothy may have coined the phrase "There's no place like home," but you cannot fault the St. Olaf baseball team for taking a page from "The Wizard of Oz" as they won the season's first two home games over St. Mary's by scores of 2-1 and 15-4.

Saturday's games marked the start of the MIAC season for the Oles, and it came little more than one week after the team finished an exhaustive eight-day, nine-game road trip through Missouri, Texas and Illinois. St. Olaf finished the week with a 3-6 record, but head coach Matt McDonald later acknowledged that wins and losses do not always tell the whole story.

"We played some great teams down south," McDonald said. "We played a couple of scholarship schools, a couple teams that have already played 20 or 25 games. You cannot go down there with unrealistic expectations ... you have to challenge your guys in some tough situations and prepare them to play in the MIAC."

While the team suffered some difficult losses, including two last-inning defeats at the hand of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, the Ole wins were all noteworthy performances.

St. Olaf defeated Whittier College 9-7 in a thrilling 13-inning affair, ace Charlie Ruud '04 notched nine strikeouts in a 4-1 complete game win over Southwestern University and the Oles smacked three homeruns in a 14-11 win over the UW- Stevens Point.

On Saturday, it was time for the "real" games to begin. Games played within the MIAC carry much more weight than non-conference games, because invitations to the NCAA tournament are only given to teams who win their conference tournament.

In game one, St. Olaf struggled to get anything going offensively in the first four innings. In the fifth, Danny Johnson '04 and Brad Baglien '04 delivered clutch run-scoring hits to put the Oles up 2-0.

That was all the support Ruud would need as he turned in yet another masterful performance. He allowed only one run while scattering four hits and striking out 12 Cardinal hitters.

Ruud also halted a late St. Mary's rally in seventh inning by striking out the final batter, leaving the tying run stranded on third base.

"Charlie's performance [on Saturday] was huge," McDonald said. "You give your ace the ball and he goes out there and strikes out 12 guys ... just a great pitching performance, something that is not replicated very often in college baseball."

Game two did not go quite as smoothly at first, but the Ole bats finally came to life and feasted on St. Mary's relief pitchers.

Starter Eric Tobias '06 struggled with his command early, allowing two runs on two walks and a hit batsman in the first. Tobias settled down and did not give up another run in his next three innings of work.

Behind three innings of stellar relief from Jon Haugen '04, the Oles would go on to score four run in the fourth before putting up an 11 spot in the sixth.

The highlight of that monster sixth inning, in which an astounding 14 batters reached base, was a line drive, opposite field grand slam by Dan Norsten '04. Bret Berry '06 and Evan Klefsaas '07 had two RBI apiece in the inning.

"We've got some guys who can hit, they just haven't thus far," McDonald said after the game. "Obviously, it helped that we got a little deeper into St. Mary's pitching staff, but it was great to see [the breakout inning] and hopefully it will give us some confidence as the season moves along."

The Oles improved to 7-6 overall with Saturday's victories. They travel to Macalester Saturday to play a doubleheader against the Scots. The team's next home games are on Tuesday when Carleton crosses the Cannon River for a double header.

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