WHITEWATER, Wis. – An 11-run fifth inning and sophomore catcher J.D. Dorgan’s team-best five RBIs resulted in the No. 4-ranked St. Thomas baseball team’s 22-2 domination of the College of St. Scholastica Friday afternoon in the third round of the NCAA Division III Midwest Regional tournament.
Though the top-seeded Tommies (37-8) had a solid offensive unit with 22 runs on 21 hits and four home runs, Dorgan led the effort with his second home run in two days and two other hits in the victory over the sixth-seeded Saints (35-10).
The Tommies play for the right to go to the NCAA Division III World Series Saturday afternoon. They will face the winner of the Scholastica-Wisconsin-Whitewater game.
Coach Chris Olean said he could not be happier with how Dorgan played.
“We certainly hope he does that the rest of the way,” Olean said. “We need him, he’s one of our offensive leaders.”
Sophomore outfielder Tim Kuzniar led off the game with a solo home run for the Tommies. He was followed by senior third baseman Charles Bruchu and junior designated hitter Dylan Thomas, who both hit solo homers as well, to put St. Thomas up 3-0 to end the first inning.
“It was good to jump on them early,” Bruchu said. “We didn’t let a young pitcher for the other team get in a groove against us, and that was big.”
Bruchu explained that the three-run first inning set the tone for the Tommies offensively.
“After that, we knew we were going to hit today,” Bruchu said.
Sophomore pitcher Steve Maher started on the mound for the Tommies. Through four innings, Maher gave up only one hit as he struck out six batters before being replaced in the fifth inning by freshman Greg Clute.
“(Maher) looked sharp,” Bruchu said. “We got a 15-run lead, so we took him out in case we need him for the rest of the tournament.”
After stagnant second and third innings, St. Thomas got the bats going again in the fourth.
Dorgan led off the fourth inning, hitting a double off of the centerfield fence. Senior outfielder Nick Reichert drove him in with an RBI triple. Reichert then scored off senior second baseman Justin Novak’s bunt to extend the Tommies’ lead to 5-0.
“(Dorgan) is definitely starting to swing the bat,” Bruchu said. “That’s definitely what you need out of your five-hitter. He’s a middle-of-the-order guy, so for him to pick it up right now is big for us.”
In the fifth inning, the Tommies broke the game open with 11 runs off nine hits against the struggling Saints pitching staff. St. Scholastica was forced to replace junior pitcher Michael Swenson, who started the game, with junior Joel Wuorio in the fifth inning when St. Thomas’ offensive surge began.
Wuorio was then replaced by junior Brian Houdek later in the inning after the Tommies batted through the order twice.
“I think if we faced the front-end of Scholastica’s staff, they’re not going to pitch like that,” Olean said. “I think they were trying to gamble with some off-speed stuff, and to our guys’ credit, they did a good job sitting back and made them pay.”
The Tommies’ scoring continued in the later innings as they brought in three runs in the sixth.
The Saints were finally able to get on the board in the sixth when junior first baseman Andy Schwantes hit a two-run homer, but the deficit was too great for St. Scholastica.
In the eighth inning, Dorgan hit a three-run homer, giving the Tommies their 22nd and final run.
Instead of spending his 21st birthday in a more typical fashion, Maher was able to celebrate with his teammates by setting the bar high, recording his 12th victory of the year against the Saints.
“It was good to get a nice little birthday present like that from the team with all those runs,” Maher said.
The regional championship game begins at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Nick McAndrews can be reached at email@example.com.