WHITEWATER, Wis. — Senior first baseman John Means’ two doubles powered the St. Thomas baseball team to a 5-3 victory over the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Thursday in the NCAA Division III Midwest Regional tournament.
Means, who usually contributes as a backup, started against the Warhawks and accounted for two of the Tommies’ five runs.
Coach Chris Olean called it “the biggest game of (Means’) career.”
“John has never impacted a game like that in the history of his career at St. Thomas,” Olean said.
Junior right-handed pitcher Dylan Thomas started for the fourth-ranked Tommies (36-8). He went eight innings, struck out three batters and gave up one earned run.
Thomas got out of a tough situation in the first inning when Whitewater sophomore center fielder Dylan Friend nearly hit an inside-the-park home run, but St. Thomas senior third baseman Charles Bruchu threw the ball home to Dorgan, who tagged Friend out. Thomas was able to pitch out of the rest of the inning unscathed.
The Warhawks (30-16) scored the game’s first run in the second inning; senior left fielder Matt Beyer drove in a runner with a single and two men on base.
The Tommies responded in the bottom of the second when sophomore catcher J.D. Dorgan hit a two-run homer to give St. Thomas the lead, which they would hold for most of the game.
Dorgan said he was just “looking for a pitch to drive.”
“I was up 2-0 (in the count) and figured I was going to get a fastball,” Dorgan said. “He left it up, and I hit it pretty deep.”
Olean noted that the game is not won or lost in the first three innings, but said Dorgan’s home run “took a lot of the pressure off us.”
Means followed Dorgan in the lineup, hitting the first of his two doubles in his first plate appearance. Freshman outfielder Jack Hogan added another double for the Tommies in the second, driving in a run and giving the team a 3-1 lead.
The game remained tight in the first few innings. Whitewater responded in the third with two runs, tying the game at three.
Whitewater sophomore pitcher Matthew Roberts entered the game in the fourth inning. Roberts used two different types of curve balls to keep the Tommie offense stagnant for four innings.
“He had a hard spike-curve and he threw it for strikes,” Means said. “That was his go-to pitch.”
Thomas struggled in the early stages of the game, but hit his stride in the fourth inning when he struck out two Warhawk batters. Thomas struck out another batter in the fifth inning, and kept his pitch-count low in the next three innings as Whitewater had no answer for his overpowering fastball.
Thomas admitted that he was nervous at the beginning of the game, but said “It’s all about battling.”
“(Thomas) kept us in the game,” Olean said. “To get by a team like this through eight innings with only one earned run without your best stuff is a very good day.”
Means hit his second double of the day in the eighth inning, driving in Dorgan for the fifth and final run of the game.
In the top of the ninth inning, sophomore pitcher Steve Maher came in to close out the game for the Tommies, striking out two of the four batters he faced.
St. Thomas will face St. Scholastica (34-9) at 4 p.m. Friday.
Olean recognized that it was a ‘gigantic’ win, but has his team is focused on the next game.
“You’re only as good as your last game in the playoffs,” Olean said, “and that means the next game is just as big, and we’ll have to put up the same kind of effort.”
Nick McAndrews can be reached at email@example.com.