By DOUG HENNES
COLLEGEVILLE – Small ball by Bethel and long ball by Macalester combined to knock St. Thomas out of the MIAC baseball playoffs Friday.
The second-seeded Tommies, the regular-season champions fro the second season in a row, fell 3-2 to top-seed Bethel in the nightcap after a 7-6 loss to fourth-seed Macalester in the opener.
Bethel and Macalester will play Saturday for the playoff title and an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III regional playoffs.
St. Thomas (26-16) will learn Monday if it will receive an NCAA at-large spot. If not, it will be the third consecutive year that the Tommies have not advanced to the regionals after a third-place national finish in 2014.
Coach Chris Olean summed up the Friday losses in four words: "Lack of clutch hitting." St. Thomas consistently put runners on base but couldn't get the key hits to draw even against Macalester or Bethel in late innings, and scored only nine runs over the three games.
"At the end of the day, our bats just didn't come alive," Olean said. "We needed more competitive and more disciplined at-bats."
In the elimination game against Bethel, St. Thomas scored twice for a 2-1 lead in the fifth, but the Royals responded with two runs in the sixth to jump ahead. Their leadoff hitter struck out swinging but moved to first when the ball got past the catcher. After a sacrifice bunt, a hit batter and a fly out, the Royals came through with three straight singles to take a lead that they wouldn't surrender.
The Tommies put runners on base in the sixth and seventh innings but couldn't move them along, and Bethel relievers retired the last eight hitters of the game.
The loss spoiled a complete-game performance by junior righthander Ryan Zimmerman. He struck out 11 and shut down the Royals 1-2-3 in seven of the nine innings. Over the three playoff games, four St. Thomas pitchers combined for 34 strikeouts.
"Ryan pitched a really good game," Olean said. "He did everything he could to hold us in there. We just couldn't get him the runs that he needed."
Eight of St. Thomas' last nine games were decided in extra innings or by one run, and the Tommies had a 3-5 record in those games. All five games in the conference playoffs so far have been decided by one or two runs.
First-game rally falls short
The long ball put St. Thomas in a big hole in the opening-game against Macalester. The Scots hit a two-run homer and a grand slam in the first two innings and held on for a 7-6 win
The Tommies led 1-0 after a Sam Cobbs RBI single in the first inning, but Macalester answered with a two-run Alex Baretta home run to go ahead 2-1. It was only the second home run given up by St Thomas ace Henry DeCaster this year.
No. 3 came in the bottom of the second inning, after Charlie Callahan tied the game with a home run to right field. DeCaster retired the first two hitters but gave up two singles and hit a batter before Macalester's Quentin Stuart hit a grand slam for a 6-2 lead. A walk, stolen base and single led to the final run of the inning as Macalester batted around.
Stuart has feasted on St. Thomas pitching this year. He hit two home runs during a six-RBI day in a doubleheader split on April 17.
Caleb Fernholz relieved DeCaster in the fourth and held the Scots scoreless, striking out six and combining with DeCaster for 13 strikeouts on the day.
The Tommies outhit Macalester 16-12 and put runners on base the first eight innings, but couldn't break through until the seventh and eighth. Hunter Hart had a two-RBI single in the seventh to cut the deficit to 7-4, and back-to-back singles by Jake Smith and Zach Gottfredsen knocked in runs in the eighth with one out. But two more runners were stranded to end the rally.
St. Thomas went down 1-2-3 in the ninth. Decaster (8-2) suffered his second loss in a row, and first to an MIAC opponent. Cobbs and Godfredsen each had four hits for St. Thomas.