By Doug Hennes
HAVANA — One down, one to go.
That’s the attitude of the St. Thomas baseball team as it savors its surprising and tense 7-0 victory over the University of Havana on Wednesday and prepares for a rematch today.
Coach Dennis Denning expects a different attitude on the part of both teams heading into the 10 a.m. game in Estadio Latinoamericano. They know what to expect of each other, nerves shouldn’t be as much of a factor and less is at stake because the crowd won’t be anywhere near the 6,000 noisy fans at Wednesday’s game.
As the Tommies toured the National Botanical Garden Thursday, Denning still was marveling at how well they performed 24 hours earlier and coming off only eight indoor practices in Coughlan Field House and three outdoor workouts here.
He pointed to four key plays by his defense during the game, which the Tommies led 1-0 after the first inning and didn’t pad until they scored six runs in the top of the eighth:
o Third baseman Jon Guion stabbed a wicked ground ball down the line in the bottom of the first inning. “I hardly saw it, said Guion, a senior from Cretin-Derham Hall. “Just reflexes. I was lucky to throw him out.” The out saved the lead because the following two Havana players hit singles.
o Pitcher Brian Toov (senior, Anoka) caught a Havana leaning off second base in the second inning and he was thrown out in a rundown between Guion and senior shortstop John Frein (senior, Austin).
o Left fielder Scott Christiansen caught a fly ball for the second out in the fifth inning and picked up a double play when he threw out a runner trying to score. “That play may have been a turning point even though the run only would have tied the game,” Denning said. “It showed them we were not about to give up the lead.”
o Pitcher Mike Honsa (senior, Cretin-Derham Hall) came on in relief after Bryan Edstrom (sophomore, Totino Grace) walked two batters with one out in the sixth inning. Honsa gave up a single to right to load the bases and then, with a 3-2 count, struck out a swinging Havana batter. The next hitter, on a 3-1 count, grounded in a third-to-second force to end the inning.
“I didn’t worry too much when the count got to three balls with the two batters,” Honsa said. “I just wanted to keep the ball down and around the plate. I knew they’d have to swing, and I had a solid defense behind me.”
“Mike showed me a lot there,” Denning said. “His curve, maybe his best pitch, wasn’t working very well (Honsa said he couldn’t “find the area code with it”) so he mixed in his fastball and changeup and kept them off pace.”
As the Tommies nursed the 1-0 lead into the eighth, Denning knew they wouldn’t be able to run on the Havana southpaw on the mound. They manufactured six runs off an error, two bunts, two hit batsmen, a walk, a double and a single.
Denning will start Edstrom in today’s game, and also plans to use three other pitchers who didn’t play Wednesday – senior Tom Kelly Jr. (Hill-Murray and son of Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly), junior Nathan Johnson (Marshall) and sophomore Jon Schulz (Cooper). Junior infielder Joe Larson (Minneapolis Roosevelt) also will get to play.