WHITEWATER, Wis. – The game boiled down to two homeruns, and the difference was that the first was for one run and the second was for two runs.
St. Thomas fell 2-1 to UW-Stevens Point Thursday in a second-round NCAA Midwest Regional thriller, and now must win four games in a row on Friday and Saturday to return to the College World Series.
The Tommies (34-8) grabbed a quick 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when Matt Olson smashed an 0-1 pitch from Scott Williams over the left-field fence.
Four innings later, it was Jeremy Richter’s turn to star. St. Thomas pitcher Kris Edwards retired the first two Stevens Point batters but gave up a single to Sam Spurney, and Richter knocked out a 2-0 pitch for a one-run Pointer lead that held up. The Tommies outhit the Pointers 8-4 but left six runners on base and had two more tagged out on running plays.
Coach Chris Olean found little to fault in his team’s play and credited Edwards for a well-pitched game. He gave up only four hits in falling to 8-4 on the season, with all four of those losses by one run.
The Tommies will play Carthage at 1 p.m. Friday in an elimination game. Olean urged his players not to take the Red Men lightly even though they dropped a 14-6 opening round game to St. Thomas on Wednesday. “They are a dangerous team, and they’ll be ready for you,” he said.
If the Tommies defeat Carthage, they’ll play again at 4 p.m. Friday against the loser of the 10 a.m. Stevens Point-Whitewater game. Win again and St. Thomas would have to beat the Stevens Point-Whitewater winner twice on Saturday.
That’s a formidable challenge, but the Tommies are familiar with it. They dropped their MIAC playoff opener to Augsburg and then won four consecutive games, including two over Augsburg, to capture their eighth playoff title in 11 years. The Tommies also are used to playing in elimination game, having won 10 in a row – six in the 2009 NCAA tourney plus four MIAC games this year.
After the game, Edwards said he thought his fastball was effective throughout the game. On the 2-0 pitch that Richter hit for his 10th homerun of the season, “I got behind in the count and threw the ball down the middle,” Edwards said. He did what he was supposed to do.”
The Tommies put runners on base in the fifth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings but could not bring the tying run across the plate.
In the fifth, John Bauer and Olson single and were on the corners with one out. They attempted a double steal, but the Stevens Point second baseman cut in front of the bag and threw out Bauer at the plate.
Tayler Rahm was stranded at third after a one-out double in the seventh, and in the eighth Olson singled for his third hit of the game but slipped while returning to first during a pickoff attempt and was tagged out. Roy Larson opened the ninth with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt but two flyouts ended the game.
The win was redemption for Stevens Point, which lost two Midwest regional games to the Tommies last year, and Williams. He started and pitched nine innings in a 17-inning, 2-1 loss to St. Thomas in an opening-round game. Two days later, the Tommies eliminated the Pointers 6-0.