APPLETON, Wis. — An explosion of runs in the third inning and senior second baseman Justin Novak’s performance at the plate helped the No. 4-ranked St. Thomas baseball team to a 12-7 victory over Christopher Newport University Friday, May 25, at Fox Cities Stadium in the first round of the Division III World Series.
The Captains (34-9) jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the second inning, but the Tommies (39-8) broke the game open in the third inning by scoring nine runs. Novak, who led St. Thomas with three hits and two RBIs, sparked the Tommie batters, leading off the inning with a successful bunt.
“As soon as I found out a righty was starting on the mound, I knew it was my time and I had to step up,” Novak said.
After Novak’s bunt, freshman outfielder Ben Podobinski converted a second bunt and both players scored when sophomore outfielder Tim Kuzniar doubled.
“I’ve been seeing the ball pretty well; it just felt good,” Kuzniar said.
The Tommies then cycled through the batting order with nine hits off Captains’ starting pitcher Greg Goldsmith. Key plays included sophomore catcher J.D. Dorgan’s single scoring senior third baseman Charles Bruchu and Novak’s base hit bouncing off first base and allowing senior third baseman Dan Reichert and junior shortstop Jon Kinsel to reach home.
“Things were going our way,” Novak said. “It seemed like everything we hit was finding a hole.”
The Tommies also benefited from Christopher Newport’s three fielding errors in the third. Wild throws by sophomore shortstop Billy Steel and senior catcher Ben Lenda allowed several Tommies to steal bases and eventually score.
Coach Chris Olean said his team took advantage of getting its opponent “frazzled.”
The Tommies’ offensive surge also helped starting pitcher Steve Maher, who said he “didn’t have much going” for him in the earlier innings.
“I was struggling to find the ump’s strike zone,” Maher said. “Once we got the nine runs in the one inning, I knew I just had to throw the ball over the plate.”
Christopher Newport used seven pitchers, but the Tommies continued to score, adding three more runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
The Captains rallied in the bottom of the ninth against sophomore left-handed pitcher Mark Ulrich. Junior designated hitter Chris McDougal hit a two-run homer, and senior outfielder Shannon Mark scored off senior third baseman Luke Saunders’ sacrifice fly. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Tommy Danczyk replaced Ulrich late in the inning and sealed the victory for the Tommies.
Olean said he was glad his team held on and was able to close out the game.
“They hit some good pitches,” Olean said. “We were very happy to get away with the win.”
The game also marked an impressive individual accomplishment for Maher. The victory gave the sophomore righty his 13th win of the season, which is a program record. Former pitching great Matt Schuld previously held the record with 12 victories in a single season.
Maher described the record as “unbelievable.”
“It’s something no one will ever take away from me,” Maher said.
St. Thomas’ next game is at 7:45 p.m. Saturday at the same venue. The team will play No.1-ranked Marietta, which beat Whitworth Friday. Marietta (44-7) is the defending national champion.
Olean hoped for a matchup with the top-ranked Pioneers on Saturday.
“Why not, right? Let’s see them right away and see what we can do,” Olean said.
Hayley Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.