Every time Matt Schuld goes to the mound for the St. Thomas baseball team, he’s a marked man. Opponents know they are facing one of the best pitchers in NCAA Division III, and they eagerly await the opportunity to take him on.

It happened again on Tuesday, and for the first time this season – and only the second time in two seasons – Schuld came out on the short end when Macalester defeated the Tommies 5-2.

The loss dropped Schuld’s 2010 record to 4-1 and his career record to 24-5, a sparkling 83 percent winning mark for the senior, who was both an All-American and a third-team CoSIDA Academic All-American last year.

Schuld’s steady performance comes as no surprise to his coaches or his teammates, who want him on the mound for big games. He finished 12-1 in 2009 to break the school record for wins in a season, defeating nine ranked Division III schools and the University of Minnesota.

Despite the gaudy statistics, the lanky finance major from Robbinsdale Armstrong doesn’t feel he’s hit his stride this year.

“I’ve given up too many walks and runs,” he said last Saturday, an off day for him, as the Tommies prepared to play Bethel. “I’m making too many bad pitches, or wasting pitches. Mechanically, I’m getting more comfortable – I just have to make sure I know where the ball is going all the time!”

Schuld pinpointed his Macalester loss to a failure to get early pitches over for strikes. He gave up all five runs in the second inning on five hits, a hit batter and a wild pitch. “They put together a few hits,” he said, and “four of the runs came with two outs. I just couldn’t finish the inning the way I should have.”

Coach Chris Olean agreed with his pitcher’s self-assessment. “He just had a bad inning,” Olean said. “He needs to get ahead in his counts and stay ahead in his counts.”

Schuld pitched and played shortstop at Armstrong, and chose St. Thomas over St. John’s for college. He broke a bone in his leg as a freshman during the team’s Florida spring break trip and came back strong as a sophomore, recording a 7-3 record as St. Thomas won its sixth straight MIAC regular-season title but lost in the NCAA regional playoffs.

Despite losing three All-Americans off that 2008 squad, Schuld felt confident of the Tommies’ chances heading into last season. They won the MIAC title again but then fell 19-1 and 8-0 to St. Olaf in the conference playoffs and limped into the regional tournament.

Schuld pitched well, throwing 12 innings in a 17-inning win over UW-Stevens Point in the opener. He won his second start 11-2 over St. Olaf to put the Tommies into the title game, which they won to advance to the national tournament.

He won his first game there 9-1 over Chapman. The Tommies headed into the final day knowing they had to beat Wooster twice to win the title, and Schuld took the ball for the first game.

“Everybody is gunning for us.”

“I was so excited,” he said. “You walk in knowing you are playing for the national championship. We had the same mentality as in the regionals – go out and play hard. We were loose, and we knew we had a good team, so we thought we had a chance.”

Schuld pitched a complete game, 6-4 win over Wooster, and then had to sit in the dugout and sweat out 12 innings before Dan Leslie drove in Matt Olson with a single to win the national championship.

“It was the best feeling of my life,” Schuld said. “I keep looking back at the highlight tape, and I still get goose bumps watching Matt go around third to score the winning run. It’s hard to beat that.”

Schuld and his teammates would like another chance to at least match that. Expectations are high with 19 of 25 players returning from the title team, but Schuld believes everyone has the right attitude and approach: one game at a time, with a goal of winning an eighth straight MIAC title.

“Everybody is gunning for us,” he said. “We had close games against Carleton (to open the MIAC season), and then we split with St. John’s (and Mac). We can’t sit back and relax. We have to be aggressive. We just want to win the MIAC and then see what happens in the playoffs.”

Schuld attributes the Tommies’ 19-3 start to the veteran lineup, good team chemistry and the sound coaching of Olean, who took over for the retired Dennis Denning. Schuld also credits Olean, who starred for the Tommies’ 1999 national runner-up team and served as their pitching coach from 2001 to 2009, for making him a better pitcher.

“I came in so raw as a freshman,” he said. “My mechanics were all over the place. Chris got his hands on me and straightened me out. I added five miles to my fastball, and he gave me confidence in myself. He can look at one bad pitch, suggest an adjustment and everything turns out OK.”

Major league scouts having been showing up at games to watch Schuld, but for now he is trying to put the scouts out of his mind and focus on one thing when he takes the mound.

“You can’t throw for a scout or anybody in the crowd,” he said. “You have to throw your own game, and for your team.”