By DOUG HENNES
A year ago, junior pitcher Drew Molin took the mound in the opening round of the MIAC playoffs and threw a two-hit shutout as St. Thomas edged St. John's 1-0. He struck out 10 batters and allowed only five base runners.
Thursday night, Molin was back on the hill in another opening round playoff game, and the results were eerily similar: a two-hit shutout win, 4-0 over Macalester, with 11 strikeouts and only four base runners.
"The games were a lot alike, weren't they?" the southpaw said after the Tommies (19-16) knocked out the Scots (21-17) at CHS Field in downtown St. Paul and moved into the double-elimination phase of the playoffs. St. Thomas will play Bethel at 7 p.m. Friday following a 3:30 game between St. John's and Gustavus.
"I thought my velocity was good tonight," said Molin, who lowered his season ERA to 1.51 and improved his career record to 15-5. "I have been battling arm issues all year, and this was the best I have felt. I was able to locate my curve, too."
Coach Chris Olean credited Molin's "great command" for setting the tone. "He was hitting 80 to 85 mph and putting the ball in good spots. He had his breaking ball going early and his fastball picked up later."
St. Thomas jumped on Macalester starter Matthew Plisko, who came into the game with a MIAC-best 8-1 record, in the first inning. With one out, the Tommies strung together four straight hits – a Rock Cates single, a Jake Smith RBI triple off the right-center wall, a Ryan Lust RBI single and a Hunter Hart single – to lead 2-0.
Molin didn't give up a hit until the fourth inning and avoided trouble until the sixth, when he hit a batter and walked one with two outs. Another Scot advanced to second on a two-out double in the seventh, but Molin retired the next hitter.
At that point, he was at 107 pitches – normally the time for a reliever to appear. Olean had no intention of pulling his starter.
"He's a senior, and this was his game," Olean said. "I told him, 'It's all yours.' "
Molin got some breathing room when the Tommies scored twice in the seventh. Zach Gottfredsen led off with a perfect bunt single down third – his third straight hit. Two players later, Lust picked up his third single of the game and his second RBI. Hart knocked in the final run with a sacrifice fly.
Molin cruised through the last two innings, putting away six Scots on four fly balls and two strikeouts. He threw 128 pitches on the night and is 3-0 in three career postseason games, with a 0.38 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 24 innings.
• St. Thomas split with Bethel during the regular season, losing 5-3 at home on May 3 before winning 3-0.
• The Tommies are 14-0 in games when they score four or more runs and 5-16 in all other games, having scored only a total of 28 runs in those losses.
• Molin's performance burnished the team's rankings in several NCAA Division III pitching categories. St. Thomas came into the game second in strikeout-to-walk ration (4 to 1), sixth in strikeouts per nine innings (10.0) and 11th in ERA (3.10).