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UMD has had its struggles in the Division II Northern Sun baseball conference this spring, but just over the hill, St. Scholastica is about to close out an outstanding Division III regular season, while rolling to the championship in the UMAC.
Nothing is certain, of course, but when the Saints demolished Crown College last weekend -- winning 10-0 and then sweeping a Saturday doubleheader 15-5 and 12-2 -- the Saints rose to 18-0 atop the UMAC, and 27-9 overall.
The Saints have secured the UMAC tournament for their home, Wade Municipal Stadium, for next weekend, but they still have unfinished business this weekend, with games at Northland College in Ashland. The final regular-season series may not be easy, as Northland will be out to establish a few things for the league tournament, and throwing a wrench into the idea of an undefeated St. Scholastica season would be the perfect way to do it.
St. Scholastica had things going with seeming unstoppable momentum, though. The Saints started the season with two tough losses to St Thomas, 3-2 and 4-3. The Tommies, always a D-II baseball powerhouse, indoctrinated the Saints, who started out 1-5, also losing twice to Washington-St. Louis and splitting two games with Buena Vista. Adding to the overload-training for the regular season, the Saints split with Keystone and lost twice to Stockton in mid-March, making their record 6-8. Since then, however, the Saints have run up a 21-1 record, with the only loss a 4-2 game in a doubleheader split with Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Most impressive is that St. Scholastica never appears to be running up the scores, regardless of the run differential. Coach Corey Kemp, in his third season, has a large roster, and seems to put everyone to good use. When the Saints blitzed last-place Crown 15-5 last Saturday, Ben Grieger pitched four hitless innings, and when his teammates jumped ahead 10-1, three relievers came in to gain experience as the 15-5 game was shortened to seven innings. Parker Olson (from Duluth East), Kyle Flagstad of Hinckley, Jake Casareto of International Falls, and Shayne Ciernia from Breck had two hits apiece.
More of the same took care of the second game, as Andy Schwantes, who transferred across town from UMD, got three hits among the Saints’ 16 base hits. Naturally, such offensive wealth can’t be expected every game, but the Saints rarely beat themselves, defensively, either. In fact, as they sewed up the victory over Crown with a double play, the throw from third to second pulled second baseman Brody Olson a foot or two off the bag, but Olson, a freshman from Duluth East, sold it well, leaping to snare the throw, then relaying the ball to first, and he got the double-play call.
This weekend, after playing at Northwestern Friday and Saturday, the Saints play at St. Thomas Sunday at 1 p.m. Yup, back up against the Tommies to wind up the regular season. One more dose of overload training to get psyched for the UMAC tournament.
Small college baseball always is a treat, but small college softball is serious business. And it’s a tough, competitive business that both UMD and St. Scholastica pull off very well, year after year.
UMD won 19 of its last 22 games to rise up to prominence in the Northern Sun, and even though the Bulldogs didn’t do as well as they’d hoped at the league tournament, they were invited to Mankato this week to play in the double-elimination NCAA Division II regional as the No. 4 seed. UMD (37-20) faces fifth-seeded Concordia of St. Paul Friday. MSU-Mankato is No. 1 seed with a lofty 47-8 record.
If you weren’t paying close attention you might not have noticed that St. Scholastica’s softball team dropped a doubleheader to Gustavus Adolphus of the MIAC in the Saints last outing. The significance may be the perfect timing for a wake-up call for the Saints, who had a 19-game winning streak snapped with the doubleheader losses.
As Upper Midwest Athletic Conference champion, St. Scholastica gets to be host for the UMAC tournament, which is this weekend at the Saints’ Kenwood Avenue field. Competition starts at 10 a.m. in the double-elimination tournament, and the Saints will face Northland College of Ashland at noon Friday.
Spring baseball season is unique, because the colleges finish up, go into league tournaments and then NCAA competition while the high school baseball and softball teams are still finishing regular season schedules. In both cases, getting out to watch a live game in the invigorating air we know as springtime, is far more satisfying that watching the Twins on television -- especially this season. The Twins may get it together, but we can get serious about watching them after the colleges are done.
NHL Division Semifinals
There’s more on the line, and the action is tighter and tougher, but so far, the divisional semifinal round of NHL playoffs hasn’t come close to capturing my interest with the same intensity of the first round, which I maintain was the most exciting and well-balanced in league history.
Ratings are way up, and more of the games are being shown more of the time on the new NBC-Sports arrangement, after NBC took over Versus. Maybe the concentrated viewing of the past couple of weeks has left me drained, and the intensity will rise again, later.
But at this point, there are a few nits I’d like to pick with the National Hockey League:
* Who had the great idea to make the road teams wear white and the home teams to wear colored jerseys? Canadians call them “sweaters,” by the way, coaxing U.S. announcers to also call the jerseys sweaters too, just to show they really know their stuff. Anyhow, the NFL did that, and the NBA has played around with it, but let’s consider the circumstances. Teams want to make money by making their home games major attractions. The Minnesota Wild, and teams like the New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Black Hawks, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and others, all had established themselves as looking particularly classy in their traditional home “whites.” They go on the road, and they put on their colors. In that way, a Flyers fan gets to see their team in white all the time, and the visiting team always wears a color, which means a different color. So every game is a different and distinct attraction. Now the NHL switches. So maybe they sell a few more colored home jerseys, but the overriding fact is that every single home game is exactly the same -- home team in its colored jersey, visiting team in white. So long, attraction.
* And let’s get the announcers to realize a couple of simple items in their everlasting quest to use every cliche known to hockey. Every time anybody scores a goal, the announcer, or analyst, says: “He put it into the back of the net.” Neat line, and it first was used when a player fired a shot so hard that it bulged the net out, and made the phrase seem valid. But I ask you to think back to Wayne Gretzky, who used to set up and make great plays from where? Correct! He would go behind the net and make great plays, and once in a while he’d even bounce the puck off the back of the netting to elude a checker. That part of the net -- the back of it -- is “the back of the net!” When you shoot a puck and it goes into the net, it doesn’t touch the “back of the net” or it wouldn’t count.
* Ditto for the phrase “in the paint,” or “in the blue paint.” In hockey, we call it the crease. They colored the area a soft blue to make it easier for the officials to tell when somebody, beside the goalie, was in the crease. In basketball, everybody painted the free throw lane a different color for the same reason, because you can’t just set up camp and stay there. Three seconds, and get out, or you get whistled. So a player can’t be in the paint in basketball, and he can’t be in the crease in hockey. Pull-eeze, hockey announcers, quit trying to be trendy by using basketball terms to describe hockey.