WHITEWATER, Wis. – Senior left-handed pitcher Bryce Gapinski’s career-best 11 strikeouts helped the top-seeded St. Thomas baseball team (35-8) defeat eighth-seeded St. Norbert (26-12) 5-1 in the first round of the NCAA Division III regional tournament Wednesday at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
The win gave Gapinski his 28th career victory, which is only two behind St. Thomas record-holder Matt Schuld.
He pitched a complete game, walked only one batter, gave up seven hits and one earned run.
“He did a nice job of executing,” coach Chris Olean said. “He threw a ton of strikes, and he threw his curveball down when he wanted and over the plate when he wanted; and they had a tough time with it.”
The first two innings were scoreless until the third inning when St. Norbert’s senior second baseman Matt Hannon drove in a run to put the Green Knights up 1-0.
The Tommies started off slow but finally got their offense going in the fifth inning when senior third baseman Charles Bruchu’s double to left field with the bases loaded scored two runs.
“We weren’t quite playing our best right away and that hit kind of broke the ice, so that was big,” Bruchu said.
The hit swung the momentum in St. Thomas’ favor as the team went up 3-1, and St. Norbert would not score another run.
The Tommies continued to produce on offense as the game went on, scoring runs in the sixth and seventh innings for the final 5-1 score.
Gapinski said the run support he received in the fifth inning was key for his success on the mound.
“That was big,” he said. “I just tried to be a little finer; and when we get a lead, it’s easier to go up there and pitch strikes and go right at hitters. That’s the best way to pitch.”
St. Norbert’s sophomore left-handed pitcher Kevin Nutley also had a complete game. He struck out four Tommie batters and gave up seven hits.
Nutley’s two earned runs show how well St. Thomas was able to capitalize off its opponent’s mistakes.
“That lefty had a little change-up that kind of fooled a couple guys, and we weren’t taking real aggressive swings. We were getting out in front and feeling for it a little bit too much,” Bruchu said.
Nutley made it difficult for the Tommies to score in the early stages of the game, but he began to slide late in the game and walked seven batters.
“Once we adjusted and started having better at-bats, we got into some more hitters’ counts,” Bruchu said. “When he falls behind in the count he’s got to make a good pitch or he can fall behind even further.”
Though St. Thomas was able to score five runs, Gapinski’s performance was the story of the day.
Olean was impressed with how Gapinski played, adding that it “always helps when you don’t have to go to the bullpen in one of these (games).”
“Bryce has been great, and he never throws that many pitches, so I’m sure he’ll be able to come back in two days and be fine,” Olean said.
St. Thomas will face the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (30-15) at 4 p.m. on Thursday. The Warhawks defeated Concordia-Chicago (33-13) 2-1 in extra innings Wednesday.
The Tommies split their doubleheader with UW-Whitewater earlier this season.
“Whitewater is a very good team,” Olean said. “They swing the bats well. They’re aggressive on the bases, and I’m sure we’ll face a good pitcher. We’re going to have to play a very clean ball game, and we’re gonna need some big hits.”
Bruchu said the team is going to need to be aggressive early in counts and just go out there with a “killer attitude.”
“You can’t be tentative in a region like this,” Bruchu said. “There are too many good teams.”
For now, Gapinski said he “feels good” about getting the first win of the tournament.
“You gotta get on the right side of the bracket; that’s the best way to take our momentum forward,” Gapinski said.
Nick McAndrews can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.