Wednesday afternoon's split with Saint John's University marked the halfway point of the Oles conference season, which they completed with an impressive 7-3 record (18-6 overall). However, there can be no denying that the team's most difficult challenges still lie ahead.
Before Wednesday's action, the combined winning percentage of the team's first five MIAC opponents (Bethel, Macalester, St. Mary's, Concordia and Saint John's) is just .396, 10 games below .500, while the team's upcoming five opponents (Hamline, Carleton, St. Thomas, Augsburg and Gustavus) boast a combined winning percentage of .568, six games over the .500 mark.
Head coach Matt McDonald, however, is not concerned about the perceived difficulty of his team's second-half schedule.
"Baseball's a game where anybody can beat anybody else on any given day," McDonald said. "A team could start 5-5 and then finish 15-5 and in first place ... You just never know."
Over the past week, the Oles played six games and improved their chances of gaining that much-desired NCAA regional bid. St. Olaf went 4-2 during their last three doubleheaders, sweeping nationally-ranked College of St. Scholastica last Thursday, splitting with Concordia-Moorhead Saturday and splitting with the Johnnies Wednesday.
Last Thursday, it was Todd Mathison '09 who led the way as the Oles halted a 14-game Saints winning streak. Mathison allowed just two runs and struck out eight men while throwing all seven innings of the game-one 3-2 victory, and Andrew Schmiesing '08 hit a walk-off double in the bottom of the seventh inning for the game-winning RBI.
Mathison then moved to the field for game two, starting at shortstop and going 3-3 with his first collegiate home run and two doubles at the plate in the 10-8 game-two win. He also entered the contest to record the game's final out and earn the save.
The Oles' game two victory over the Saints was also the 300th of McDonald's coaching career.
"I haven't really though much about [the milestone] because we're in the middle of such a tough stretch of games," McDonald said. "300 wins is a great milestone, but for this group of guys, we're more concerned about working towards a championship."
Last Saturday, St. Olaf made the long drive to the Fargo-Moorhead area to take on the Cobbers. Starter Eric Tobias '06 took the loss and allowed eight hits over five innings, as Concordia scored three runs on Ole errors and one more on a wild pitch.
McDonald and his Oles did manage a split with a 6-2 game two win. Dan OMalley '06 threw six solid innings and Josh Schultheis '07 continued his hot-hitting ways by going 2-4 with a run scored.
In game one Wednesday, Mathison threw a complete game shutout to lead the Oles to a 2-0 victory, earning his team-high fourth victory of the season. St. Olaf acquired two runs off RBI sacrifice flies from Chris Terrazas '07 and Schultheis.
In game two, Paul Johnson '08 pitched superbly, striking out 11 Johnnies in a complete game. St. Olaf committed two errors in the fifth leading to two unearned runs. The Oles failed to manufacture runs as they only had four hits in the game and one extra-base hit on the day.
On Saturday, St. Olaf will take on perhaps the MIAC's most surprising team, Hamline University. The Pipers have not posted a winning record in over 10 years (never reaching the conference tournament), yet they have jumped out to a solid 7-3 start this season and are leading the league in runs scored.
The doubleheader, which takes place at St. Olaf's Mark Almi field, will begin at 2:30 p.m.