By DOUG HENNES
WHITEWATER, Wis. -– One of Matt Vanderbosch’s theories about baseball has to do with the value of two-out hits. “That’s the way you win games,” the assistant coach told the St. Thomas baseball team on Thursday.
He sure is right. The Tommies bounced back from Wednesday’s 1-0 shutout loss to St. Scholastica in the NCAA Division III Midwest Regional to whip Benedictine 10-1, and in the process they banged out 12 two-out hits.
Those dozen hits and a pair of walks led to nine consecutive two-out runs over three innings and allowed St. Thomas (34-6) to advance to a 3 p.m. Friday elimination matchup against Case Western, a 3-1 winner over St. Scholastica.
“We didn’t exactly hit the ball out of the park today, but we did put it in play a lot,” UST coach Chris Olean said. “We got hits when we needed them and were able to manufacture a lot of runs with two outs.”
The 18-hit attack, which included seven infield singles and six doubles, backed the lights-out pitching of sophomore Colin Wendinger. He threw six shutout innings, striking out a batter in each inning, and extended his scoreless streak to 30 innings over five appearances. He last gave up a run March 25 against Chicago in Florida.
“Colin got his feet wet with us last year, and this year his command is better,” Olean said. “Between that hard two-seam fastball and his breaking ball, he has been really tough. He’s down in the zone and on the corners, and those are tough pitches to hit.”
Wendinger said he had the same approach against Benedictine as when he shut down Concordia on Sunday in the MIAC playoff championship game.
“I felt really good out there,” he said. “I was hitting my spots with the curve and the two-seam fastball, and I was comfortable throwing either pitch at any time.”
He shrugged off the 30-inning scoreless streak and gave credit to his teammates.
“It’s the defense,” he said. “I have not been getting an astronomical amount of strikeouts, so I just go out, keep the ball down and let the fielders do their work.”
And they did just that, thrice turning 6-4-3 double plays -– shortstop Jon Kinsel to second baseman Sam Miller to first baseman Tyler Peterson -– in the first, fourth and eighth innings.
St. Thomas didn’t score in the first inning -– their 12th straight inning without a run going back to the Concordia win -– but broke loose with three runs in the second and sixth and four in the seventh to build a 10-0 lead.
Tim Kuzniar and Jack Hogan doubled to lead off the second. With two outs and a 1-0 lead, the Tommies loaded the bases with a walk and infield single. Peterson
walked to force in a run and J.D. Dorgan’s infield single made it 3-0.
The first two St. Thomas batters flew out in the sixth, but four straight hits plated three more runs and doubled the lead to 6-0. It was more of the same in the seventh – after two outs, five hits led to four runs.
The Tommies’ leadoff and second hitters, Ben Podobinski and Kinsel, each reached base five times in six at bats. Podobinski followed a groundout and a walk with three infield singles and a double and Kinsel had three singles and a pair of walks.
“We hit the ball well today, especially with two strikes,” Kinsel said. “We put the ball on the ground and forced them to make plays. A lot of our guys run well, so that put pressure on their defense, too.”
Podobinski credited the win with the Tommies’ ability to stretch out rallies, “especially with two outs. We finished well today,” as opposed to Wednesday, when they left runners on third base in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
--Every St. Thomas position starter got on base against Benedictine. The only one without a hit was Ryan Gerber, who was hit by a pitch. Six players had two or more hits and Dorgan had four RBI. Podobinski’s four-hit day extended his team lead to 61 hits on the season.
--In four postseason games, St. Thomas pitchers have given up only three earned runs in 36 innings (0.75 ERA). The starters have been even more effective, allowing one earned run in 25.1 innings (0.35 ERA).
--If St. Thomas wins its Friday afternoon game, it would need two Saturday wins to return to the Division III World Series, May 24-28 in Appleton, Wis.
--Five of the six regional games have been decided by one or two runs.
--UW-Stevens Point won another 10-inning game in comeback fashion, this one Thursday night over UW-Whitewater, 7-6. The Pointers scored two runs in the top of the ninth inning to tie and two in the top of the 10th to go ahead. They used a two-out strikeout to end the game with a UWW runner stranded on third base.
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