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Year after year, it seems we finish up a sports season and wind up expressing dismay, or disgust, because our local teams get overlooked when it comes to selections for the regional NCAA tournaments. This year, we have no such complaints.
UMD is in the Division II regional in St. Cloud, and St. Scholastica headed for the Division III regional in LaCrosse, Wis. For St. Scholastica, it was pretty much automatic; for UMD, it was a worthy reward, even if a bit of a pleasant surprise.
St. Scholastica (31-9) broke open the final game with a 5-run seventh to whip Northwestern College of Roseville 10-3 and capture its 19th consecutive UMAC tournament championship for. Any semblance of a similar drama to the previous week’s UMAC softball tournament, where Wisconsin-Superior upset St. Scholastica twice to win the title, were quickly dispelled.
There was almost too much drama for the UMD Bulldogs, however. UMD held onto a slim edge to win the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference baseball title, and advanced to St. Cloud for the NSIC tournament last weekend. Once there, the Bulldogs blew out Sioux Falls 10-1, but then were stunned themselves 10-1 by Concordia of St. Paul on Friday. UMD came back in the double-elimination tournament to beat Northern State 7-5, but only after nearly blowing a 7-0 lead.
With teams being eliminated by the game, UMD came back Saturday to beat Augustana 20-10 in a football-like score that saw the Bulldogs bring home 13 runs with home runs, eliminating Augustana in the process. Seniors led the way as Jimmy Heck and Kyle Comer hit three-run shots for the early lead. Augustana, however, scored seven runs in a sloppy third inning, but UMD’s Brett Milazzo hit his first home run of the season – another 3-run blast – to put UMD back ahead. Then it came back to Alex Wojciechowski, who extended his NCAA Division II lead by ripping his 33rd home run of the season in the eighth inning, with the bases loaded.
That grand slam secured the victory, but the Bulldogs fell victim again to Concordia Saturday night in the elimination game that decided which would get the chance to challenge unbeaten St. Cloud State for the title. St. Cloud State defeated Concordia 6-4 to settle that issue, and it was a result that may have paid rich dividends for the Bulldogs.
Had Concordia beaten St. Cloud State, twice, and won the UMAC playoff title, it would have been Concordia to win the automatic berth in this week’s NCAA Division II regional. The committee then would have had to choose between St. Cloud State and UMD for an at-large berth. But by the Huskies winning, they get the No. 1 seed for the regional, and UMD, with a record-setting 39-14 record and the No. 20 rating in the country, was tabbed as an at-large pick and advanced to the regional as the No. 3 seed.
The Bulldogs were to line up against No. 6 seed Emporia State of Kansas Thursday night, also at St. Cloud, in the double-elimination opening round. If it seems only fair and logical that UMD should get the chance to put its power-hitting prowess on display at the regional, consider this: It’s the first time UMD has been selected to go to the NCAA regional in 13 years.
St. Scholastica, meanwhile, had practically no drama as it outclassed the field to win the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference tournament at Wade Stadium, duplicating its regular-season title and earning the automatic berth in the NCAA Division III tournament in LaCrosse.
Wisconsin-Superior blew a 4-3 lead and dropped a 5-4 opener to Northwestern in the final inning, while St. Scholastica thumped Minnesota-Morris 11-0 in a game shortened to seven innings. UWS came back to edge Morris 3-2, eliminating the Cougars. That put UWS up against Northwestern again Friday afternoon, with the winner drawing the chance to face the Saints.
Northwestern hammered the Yellowjackets this time, 7-0. That put the Golden Eagles up against St. Scholastica, and it was a good battle for six innings, with the Saints breaking a 3-3 tie with a run in the last of the sixth, then shattering the game with a 5-run outburst in the last of the seventh, en route to a 10-3 romp.
Winning the UMAC tournament crown for the 19th straight tiime gives St. Scholastica high hopes for the regional, although the Saints opened with a tough test against MIAC champion St. John’s Wednesday. The host school, Wisconsin-LaCrosse, was national runner-up last spring.