The Oles entered play last weekend with a 13-1 conference record and a two-game lead over second-place Gustavus (three games over third-place St. Thomas) in the MIAC standings. However, the 19th-ranked Tommies dealt St. Olaf a blow Saturday afternoon at Mark Almli Field, winning both games of the doubleheader by scores of 5-4 and 4-3. The Oles also split a non-conference doubleheader with St. Scholastica in Duluth on Tuesday afternoon.
"We've put ourselves in a rough situation," third baseman Chris Terrazas '07 said. "Now we've got to go undefeated the rest of the regular season to win the outright title."
Since 2000, the Tommies and the Oles have played in nine one-run contests in their 26 matchups, with St. Thomas winning 15 of those games overall. In front of an estimated 500 spectators on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the Oles took an early 2-0 lead in game one. Brian Astryn '07 led off with a first-inning triple against Tommie starter Dan Leslie, later scoring on a Terrazas' single. Andrew Schmiesing '08 scored later in the inning on a wild pitch.
Ole ace Paul Johnson '08 failed to hold the early lead. A bases-loaded double by St. Thomas' Chris Bullis highlighted a four-run Tommie third inning, and St. Olaf left the tying run on third base in the bottom of the seventh in the 5-4 loss.
Things took a turn for the worse in game two when starting pitcher Paul Shrewsbury '10 was forced to leave the game after the third inning with an elbow injury and the game tied at one. The Oles overcame two deficits to tie the game at three entering the seventh, but Alex Beckman '09 surrendered a solo homer to Bryan Johnson to give St. Thomas their final lead.
"They were two very close games," Terrazas said. "We played our game, but they just got a couple more breaks."
Tuesday, St. Olaf looked to bounce back from the disappointing losses with a non-conference doubleheader against perennial power St. Scholastica in Duluth. Pitching depth hurt the Oles in game one, as four different hurlers couldn't contain the Saints' attack in an 11-5 loss. Terrazas went 2-4 with a home run and three RBIs at the plate.
Alex Sommer '09 gave a tired bullpen some much-needed relief in game two, going seven strong innings in an 8-2 win. Sommer allowed just four hits to earn his third victory of the year, while the Oles pounded out 15 knocks of their own. Josh Schultheis '07 went 3-4 and Josh Maus '08 had two hits and two RBIs as St. Olaf snapped their three-game skid.
With Shrewsbury and fellow hurler Todd Mathison '09 sidelined for the foreseeable future, St. Olaf pitching coach Charlie Ruud '04 realizes how important performances like Sommer's will be down the stretch.
"You see how important it is for guys to go out there and throw strikes," Ruud said. "His last two outings, Alex had focused on throwing his fastball for strikes. He's making guys hit pitches they don't want to hit, and that's been his key."
Although the calendar says it is just early May, the end of the regular season is fast approaching for St. Olaf. The Oles have just two conference doubleheaders remaining until next weekend's MIAC Tournament (held May 11-13 in Northfield and Dundas). Thursday, fifth-place Augsburg visits for the final home games of the year, while the Oles travel to St. Peter Saturday for a key matchup with the third-place Gusties.