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Amid the peak of pro, college and high school football, and the rocket-like launch of hockey season, the World Series still commands our attention. The other sports can be our favorites, but when the American and National League baseball champions get together in the World Series, it is always a piece of Americana being played out for all the world to watch.
This year’s Series is more than a little special. It offers a favorite in the Detroit Tigers, and also vindication for a team that underachieved all season before making a spirited run in the final month, to overtake the Chicago White Sox, then beat an inspired Oakland A’s outfit, before sweeping the New York Yankees out into the cold. Then there are the San Francisco Giants, and no matter how much you pull for the American League’s Tigers, you have to appreciate the Cinderella quality of the Giants. If the Giants get hopelessly behind in the Series, don’t count them out.
The had to face a strong Cincinnati outfit, and after losing the first two games in San Francisco, it looked pretty hopeless in the 5-game first round. But the plucky Giants became the first National League team to ever lose its first two games at home, then go on the road and rattle off three straight victories. All that earned them was a chance to face the smooth and poised and powerful St. Louis Cardinals, who split the first two in San Francisco, then went home to whip the Giants the next two for a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven.
That’s where the magic started to indicate these Giants were something special. Knowing their foe needed only one more victory in three games to advance to the World Series, the Giants gave it a run. On one play, second baseman Marco Scutero went over for a possible double-play pivot, caught the throw and stepped a couple of feet behind the bag to make his relay. Cardinal left fielder Matt Holliday came in hard in baseball tradition, where the runner is allowed to crash into the pivotman. But Holliday went to extremes, hurtling himself feet-first over the base and making first contact with Scutero who landed in a heap. Somehow, he stayed in the game -- those x-rays on his hip could come later -- and payback came a few innings later. Bases loaded, 2-1 Giants lead, and Scutero socks a single to left-center that Holliday cut off but misplayed, and all three runs scored. That made it 5-1 and eventually 7-1.
Back in San Fran, the Giants won Game 6, also, setting up a monumental Game 7, opposite the broadcasts of President Obama taking on Mitt Romney in the final debate, and the Bears-Lions game on Monday Night Football. Incredibly the Giants baffled the Cards 8-0, and the appreciative and deserving San Francisco fans ate it up. In the last inning, the mist rolling in off the Pacific turned to rain, and then to a complete downpour. The fans stayed, soaking up more than just their sports thrill of the decade. The umpires tried to let them finish the game, even though baseballs were hard to grip and harder to throw. The Cardinals got a couple runners on, but two were out. They tried to squeegee water off the muddy infield as the batter stepped in. The cameras caught Scutero, out at second base, looking up into the rain, eyes closed, and enjoying every drop that splattered down on his face. The batter hit an extremely high pop fly, straight up into the downpouring rain, just to the right of second base. Scutero waved that he had it, raised his glove, and caught the ball as though it was a sunny afternoon. Game over, 8-0. Series over, Frisco winning 8-0. And as the Giants hopped around like little kids playing in the rain, engulfing Scutero, and then everybody else on the roster, you realized that the final popup was hit by -- you guessed it -- Matt Holliday.
Payback can be richly rewarding, and in this case, it sends the San Francisco Giants, magic or not, back onto that field to face the rested, ready, and heavily favored Detroit Tigers. No time to underachieve now, but that may not be necessary. The Tigers are loaded, but the Giants, win or lose, have the overload of magic on their side.
It was clear from the start of last Saturday’s UMD homecoming football game that things might be a little different. We have grown accustomed to seeing the Bulldog machine spin with near-flawless precision, over the last few years, but this time, on first down, senior quarterback Chase Vogler tried a first-play handoff to Austin Sikorsky, and both of them botched the play, with Bemidji State’s Connor Quinn recovering on the UMD 23.
After one incomplete pass, UMD’s defense jolted senior running back Dustin Kroeplin, who fumbled, and Fossam (Buma) Foncham recovered for UMD. It was the start of a huge day for Foncham, a sophomore nose guard who spent the afternoon sacking, tackling, recovering fumbles and intercepting passes for the Bulldogs. That first recovery was pivotal, because Vogler almost immediately fired a perfect pass to freshman Justin Fowlkes, who raced up the left sideline behind and amid a corridor of blockers for a 64-yard touchdown.
Bemidji State had been moving the ball and threatening all its foes, and threatened UMD, too, but the Bulldog defense remained solid all day. Meanwhile, the offense wasn’t exactly decimating the Beavers, but another somewhat unsung hero, senior tight end Ben Helmer, emerged. Leading 8-0, it was third and 4 when Vogler found Helmer for a 9-yard gain to the UMD 32; on third and 3, Vogler again hit Helmer, for 11, to the 50; on fourth and 2 at the Bemidji State 42, coach Bob Nielson gambled and went for it, and, sure enough, Vogler hit Helmer for a 15-yard gain; on second and goal from the 4, it was only fitting that Vogler passed to Helmer in the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
“After that, they didn’t need me any more and put me on the shelf,” Helmer said, laughing, after the 30-0 UMD victory.
But the Bulldogs still needed some big plays. Kenny Chowa intercepted a Lance Rogstad pass and returned it 19 yards to the 30, from where Brian Lucas and Vogler rushed four times to reach touchdown territory for a 21-0 lead. Still in the second quarter, Justin Lee ran for a 53-yard Bemidji gain before Foncham nailed him, jarring a fumble loose, although the Beavers recovered. Zach Pulkinen punted, and Aaron Roth ran a field-crossing course on a 40-yard runback, setting up Vogler for a touchdown pass to Zach Zweifel and it was 28-0. A couple of punt exchanges later, Chris Blake, a junior corner back who plays far larger than his 5-11, 180-pounds should allow, intercepted another Rongstad pass, although that time, Vogler found himself picked off by Buckley Wright three plays later, and the interception exchange was like a bookend to the strange start of the strange first half.
UMD led 28-0, however, and after recording a safety to open the third quarter, Vogler tried Helmer one more time, hitting the big tight end on what appeared to be a 55-yard touchdown play. As he ran up the left sideline, however, Helmer covered 42 of the required 55 yards when he was caught from behind by Larry Miller, who punched the ball out of Helmer’s arm, and Connor Quinn recovered for the Beavers. “He came from out of nowhere,” said Helmer, who went back on the shelf because the Bulldogs needed only defensive big plays from there on.
One of those came in the fourth quarter, when Foncham intercepted a Rongstad pass at midfield and in the ensuing pileup, a flurry of officials flags fluttered. UMD gained possession, but only after both a personal foul call on Foncham, who took exception to his post-interception treatment, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Ty Fischer moved the ball 30 yards back to UMD’s 25. Jon Lynch took over at quarterback and handed the ball to freshman Logan Lauters eight times in 11 plays, interrupting the pattern to throw a fourth-and-4 pass for 13 yards to Kris Olson. With first and goal at the 2, and the 30-0 score in place, the Bulldogs let the clock run out.
UMD’s volleyball team beat Winona State 25-17, 25-13, 25-11 in Romano Gym, right after the football game, in what was an important match, because both teams are among Northern Sun leaders. The loss dropped Winona State to 10-4 in conference play, and 18-6 overall, while UMD hits the road this week at 12-2 NSIC and 21-2 overall. Kate Lange was dominant for the Bulldogs, with 14 kills, but she had great support from Kalli Lochner and Maddy Siroin, who had 8 kills each, and Monica Turner, who added 7 kills with an assortment of artistic kills rather than simply blasting them through blockers.
The UMD hockey teams had mixed results. The Bulldog men, after opening with a split against Ohio State, won at Notre Dame and looked good, then lost the second game and looked less impressive. They return to AMSOIL Arena this weekend for a huge WCHA opening series against Wisconsin.
The UMD women, who rebounded from a disturbing opening series sweep at the hands of Ohio State by sweeping Wisconsin 2-0, 1-0 at AMSOIL, went to Minnesota State-Mankato and had everything going smoothly in the first game, building a 3-0 lead. But the Mavericks roared back in the third period for three goals to tie the game, and ultimately won in a shootout. That stands as a tie for UMD, fortunately, but less-fortunately, the Bulldogs were stung 1-0 in the rematch. So, as they go to Boston College, UMD’s women have a weird WCHA record of being 2-0 against the highly regarded Badgers, and 0-4 against much-improved Ohio State and MSU-Mankato.