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It’s hard to say who faces the greater risk for visitors to Bulldog Park. Is it the opposing pitcher facing the monster lineup of the hot-streaking UMD Bulldogs, or the fans who might encircle the outfield fence for a clear view of the action without a mandatory helmet?
The answer is both. The pitcher has the daunting task of having to pitch through the intimidating UMD lineup; the outfield fans have to stay alert because of the horsehide missiles the Bulldogs send over that fence with amazing regularity.
Everybody in the lineup is capable of delivering the big blow or at least an inspirational line drive. Leadoff is generally sophomore Brett Milazzo, a tough, left-handed hitting outfielder, who looks shorter than his 5-foot-8 because of the giants to follow. Grant Farley is 6-2 and hits second, and he’s hitting .342 with 11 home runs and 13 multi-hit games. Third is Alex Wojciechowski, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound first baseman who is hitting a phenomenal .488, with a school record 30 home runs and 87 runs batted in. Wojo has 30 multi-hit games this year.
But there’s more. Following Wojciechowski is Kyle Comer, the solid 6-1, 220-pound third baseman, who has a .429 batting average with 11 home runs, 58 RBI, and 23 multi-hit games. Five of those home runs, plus four doubles, 18 RBI and 11 runs scored came last week, when UMD swept six games. And then, batting fifth, is second baseman Jimmy Heck, a 6-5, 225-pound senior whose has a .481 average in close pursuit of Wojciechowski’s .488, and he is second to Wojo on the team in home runs (15), RBIs (66), and multi-hit games (24).
Wojciechowski has a 37-game on-base streak, while Comer has a 23-game streak and Farley 15, both current.
Tyler Wojciechowski, incidentally, usually bats sixth, but give him time. He’s only the freshman brother of Alex, he hits left-handed, and he is 6-3, 225.
Sure it’s Division II, but such imposing size is an instant advantage, and there isn’t a Major League infield in existence that can show off a 6-5 first baseman hitting .488, a 6-5 second baseman hitting .481, and a 6-1 third baseman hitting .429. Getting through the first inning against that lineup is an enormous task for a pitcher.
Watching the Bulldogs is a lot like watching the old home-run derby shows, where you might be disappointed if a hitter or two fails to hit one out, but then your patience is rewarded because the next guy might. They stand up at the plate with great poise and hit the ball so hard so often.
The Bulldogs have the incentive to win this weekend, because the reward would be the first Bulldog Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference regular-season championship since UMD rejoined the NSIC eight years ago. At 26-4 in league play, and 33-9 overall, first-place UMD faced a major hurdle Wednesday when it put its 16-game winning streak on the line at St. Cloud State. Then it’s home to Bulldog Park.
Last Sunday, the Bulldogs whipped Minot State 21-6 and then held off the Mustangs 8-7, to break the school record of 15 straight victories, set in 2002. Alex Wojciechowski hit his 29th home run in the first game, and his 30th in the second to move within six home runs of the NCAA Division II season record, although the constant parade of line drives overshadowed any individual achievement.
Regardless of the outcome this weekend, look for some hardballs to be sent rocketing over that outfield fence over the course of four games – two on Friday starting at 1:30 p.m., and two more on Saturday starting at 12 noon.
This is the week that baseball, and softball, take over the Duluth sports focus, now that the “white” has departed for good from the “great white north.” And the UMD men’s baseball team deserves the spotlight.