MINNETONKA, Minn. – Behind the stellar pitching of Steve Maher and Tommy Danczyk, the St. Thomas baseball team defeated Bethel University for the second time this weekend, en route to a 3-1 victory in the MIAC tournament championship.
The win gave St. Thomas its second consecutive postseason conference title and an automatic bid to the NCAA national tournament. The Tommies (33-7, 18-2 MIAC) defeated the Royals (23-12, 14-6 MIAC) on Sunday after earning a 6-1 victory against Bethel on Saturday, a game in which first baseman Tyler Peterson left with an injury.
“I think the big thing for us is this is our first game playing without (Peterson),” coach Chris Olean said. “I was just pleased they competed. We got a great outing out of (Maher). We really needed that out of him.”
Maher, who is 4-1 on the season with a 4.79 ERA, was able to locate his fastball to help him keep batters off balance.
“I think for Steve it’s always fastball command. Really, he pitches off his breaking ball more than his fastball,” Olean said. “He needs to be able to show that fastball in certain counts and not get hurt with it too much.”
Maher, who was a preseason All-American, struck out four batters and allowed just one run in the MIAC championship.
“I had good fastball command today, which is huge, especially against these guys because they can hit the fastball,” Maher said. “Obviously for me, I’m normally a slider guy. I had that in my back pocket, but just being able to hit spots and keep the ball down did wonders for me.”
With Peterson being out of the game because of a lacerated spleen, senior Nick Degen stepped in and didn’t miss a beat, tallying two hits and a run to go along with a perfect fielding percentage. Degen played in only 11 games for St. Thomas this season, batting .235 with just two RBIs.
“(I) just tried to do what my coaches taught me all year long,” Degen said. “I definitely felt a lot of pressure walking in, but I knew if I could just play a simple game … I would do all right.”
The Tommies were tied with Bethel until the third inning, where Bethel made some mistakes in the field because of St. Thomas’ pressure. St. Thomas scored all three of its runs in the third inning after Degen led the inning off with a single to right field.
“We just found a way,” Olean said. “I don’t know if we have a blueprint anymore, but we have to just continue to have different guys step up.”
Olean said Peterson was injured in the semifinal matchup with Bethel after he collided with catcher J.D. Dorgan in foul territory, and there’s a pretty good chance he won’t be able to play the rest of the year.
The Tommies will now move on to the NCAA regional tournament to begin national postseason play. Regional sites and their hosts will be announced at 11 p.m. Sunday.
Jordan Kruger can be reached at email@example.com.