College baseball: Saints survive scare and refocus

The St. Scholastica baseball team started the season 5-0, was ranked No. 11 in NCAA Division III and feeling pretty good about themselves before stumbling going into conference play.

The St. Scholastica baseball team started the season 5-0, was ranked No. 11 in NCAA Division III and feeling pretty good about themselves before stumbling going into conference play.

After winning a pair of UMAC slugfests with Wisconsin-Superior, which coach Corey Kemp said lent a false sense of confidence, the Saints lost 11-4 to Northwestern last week and were in danger of dropping the second game of the doubleheader as well.

"Was I nervous?" Kemp said. "Nervousness was out the window by that point."

How rare would it be for St. Scholastica to be swept in a UMAC baseball doubleheader?

Try never, and that fact wasn't lost on Kemp and Co.


Senior reliever Joe Gonrowski came in to save the day as the Saints rallied for a 5-4 victory in 10 innings. The close call appeared to awaken a sleeping giant as St. Scholastica has since extended its winning streak to seven games going into its UMAC doubleheader at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Wade Stadium. The Saints (15-6 overall, 9-1 UMAC) have won their past six games by an average margin of 14 to 2.

"Northwestern was a big wake-up call," Kemp said. "Each year is a new team, so what happened the year before doesn't really matter. You still need to earn it."

Kemp said one player who earns it each outing is Gonrowski, who pitched six scoreless innings against Northwestern as the Saints battled back from a 4-2 deficit through five innings. While St. Scholastica's starters have struggled with injuries, Gonrowski, of Elk River, Minn., has continued to be Mr. Reliable, with a 1.32 ERA in 13 2/3 innings this spring. He's the Saints' stopper, usually only going an inning or two, but that wasn't the case against the Eagles.

"We talk a lot about being unselfish and doing what's best for the team, and Joe is the perfect example," Kemp said. "He came in and threw 86 pitches against Northwestern. That's the most he's ever thrown in college. The kid competed and battled. He wasn't going to lose that game."

While Gonrowski helped right the Saints' ship, senior outfielders Steven Neutzling and Drew Colvard and sophomore shortstop Joey Zwak have helped powered the prop.

Neutzling, a St. Cloud Cathedral product, played under legendary coach Bob Carn, Minnesota's all-time wins leader, and was good right out of the box for the Saints, batting .348 as a freshman in 2015. Neutzling is having his best season this spring, batting .434 with 11 doubles, four home runs and 29 RBIs in just 21 games. He has proven to be a tough out, with 13 walks and a .510 on-base percentage.

"I was starting to wonder if we were ever going to have a season with all the snow we've had," Neutzling said, laughing. "It's been nice getting back to playing games more consistently and finding a little bit of a rhythm."



Neutzling is a hit machine. He has reached base in an incredible 56 straight games, but he didn't know about the streak until recently reading the team's game notes.

"I try to take that out of it," he said. "It's cool, I'm proud of it, but I just try to play the game."

Neutzling is also about winning, and with 16 RBIs in the last seven games, he is certainly doing his part. He is the ninth Saint to reach 200 career hits, and on Monday, he was named St. Scholastica's male athlete of the year.

"It's my senior season, and I'm just trying to have fun with it while I can," Neutzling said. "Each and every game is important, because I only have so many left."
As a fellow senior, Colvard can relate. He is second on the team with a .414 batting average, with a team-high 34 runs and 15 walks. Zwak, a Duluth East graduate, is third at .337 batting.

Colvard, who's older brother Austin starred for the Saints, has steadily improved each year coming out of Roseville (Minn.) High School, batting .267 as a freshman, .290 as a sophomore and .331 last year. He has had two hits in seven of his last eight games while extending his hitting streak to 24 games.

"Andrew earned his job," Kemp said. "He hit in our nine-hole, but the start he got off to in Florida made us realize this kid is a top-of-the-order guy. So we made him our leadoff guy, and that's not going to change. He's a senior captain who's worked so hard to earn what he's getting."

St. Scholastica hosts the NCAA Division III Midwest Regional May 17-21, but there is no guarantee the Saints will be one of the teams competing.

"We might not even host the UMAC tournament," Kemp said.


Bethany Lutheran (12-8, 7-1) is looking to unseat the Saints, winners of the last 21 regular-season UMAC championships and 20 UMAC tournament championships. The tourney winner earns the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

If the Saints keep on playing like they are capable, they should be fine, but if they don't, it could be Northwestern all over again.

"We told the guys after that Northwestern loss, 'We're so far away from even being invited to that,'" Kemp said of the Midwest Regional. "That was one of my longest days ever as a Saints baseball player or coach, but there was no panic. These guys know how good they can be, but you still have to focus and prepare and go out and earn it."

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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