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ISSUE 119 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/12/2006

Moving on, looking forward: Baseball turns focus to conference tourney

By Ryan Maus
Sports Editor

Friday, May 12, 2006

After watching the MIAC regular season championship narrowly evade their grasp Saturday afternoon, the St. Olaf baseball team now must shift their focus to more relevant matters: This weekend’s MIAC Tournament.

The Oles entered Saturday’s doubleheader against third-place Gustavus essentially needing a sweep to break their first-place tie with St. Thomas atop the conference standings and capture their first regular season title since 2002.

Unfortunately, St. Olaf could only manage a split with the Gusties (winning game one 11-0, but losing the nightcap 6-1) while the Tommies swept Carleton to win their fourth-consecutive regular season crown, relegating the Oles to their second straight second-place finish.

After cruising to a pair of 7-1 victories over Augsburg the previous day, the Ole bats picked up right where they had left off during Saturday’s first game. St. Olaf pounded Gustavus starter Anders Schmidt for 11 earned runs and ten hits during his five and a third innings of work, including a six extra-base hits. Andrew Schmeising ’08 belted two-run homers during his first two trips to the plate, and leadoff man Brian Astry ‘07 went 2-4 with three runs scored in the lopsided Ole win.

Meanwhile, Ole starter Paul Johnson ’08 utterly baffled the Gustie hitters en route to his fourth win of the season. Johnson did not allow a hit through the first four and two-thirds innings while striking out seven.

The sophomore ends the MIAC regular season as the conference’s leading strikeout pitcher, recording 55 whiffs in 45.1 innings of work.

“Paul’s a firey competitor,” said head coach Matt McDonald about his sophomore righthander. “He ran into a bit of bad luck earlier this season but he’s obviously one of the best pitchers in the league.”

However, Gustavus ace John Spitzack would not allow McDonald’s squad to gain a sweep so easily. The Gustie veteran effectively doused St. Olaf’s scorching bats in game two, allowing only three baserunners through the first five innings and limiting the top four hitters in St. Olaf’s lineup to one hit in 12 plate appearances.

McDonald and St. Olaf must now concentrate on this weekend’s seventh annual MIAC Tournament. Top-seeded St. Thomas will take on fourth-place Hamline in their first round game, while the second-seeded Oles will see a rematch with Spitzack and Gustavus in their initial matchup.

“Gustavus is a great offensive baseball team,” said McDonald. “Spitzack is a tough pitcher who changes speeds well, and he’s who we’ll probably see on Friday.”

Northfield’s Sechler Park and Dundas’ Memorial Field will host the tournament once again this year, with games running through Sunday afternoon. The St. Olaf-Gustavus tilt will take place Friday at Sechler beginning at 3:30 p.m. Win or lose, the Oles will play later that day at 7 p.m.

“They key for us is to concentrate on playing within ourselves, to not try and do too much,” McDonald said about his team’s championship hopes. “Our team is built on pitching, solid defense and doing the little things right. If we can do all that, we should be alright.”

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